“Peace on Earth to People of Goodwill:” The Experience of Faith and the Joy of Christmas

by Tabi Arrey

 

I love the holiday season: the music, the pomp, the cheer, the new Hallmark movies, and even the sweaters and the eggnog. The holiday season might be as cold as anything can be, but hearts are warm as people celebrate one another in ways that are special and particular. We are reminded of the things that matter the most to us; we think of our friends and family, of the people who have influenced our lives in one way or another, of that rather short and obscure action of solicitude and concern that make life worth living. As these memories overload our collective imagination, we see in them the necessity to give back, to give thanks. 

 

We buy and exchange gifts, we go to concerts, and we reorganize our playlists to feature holiday hits, for ‘tis the season to be jolly as the old carol suggests. I love the holiday season, but even more particularly, I love the Christmas Season.

 

Just very recently, the Boston College community was hit by yet another race-motivated incident. The student in question was held accountable for his actions, and he faces serious consequences. Hours after the news broke, various individuals and campus organizations took action on social media, calling out bias and racism by its ugly name. While some of these individuals and groups offered a safe place to talk and share how this evil impacts their lives, others have called for emergency assemblies to address racial bias especially against students of color. These individuals are calling for just action, a recognition of difference, and a validation of otherness. They are demanding love even when implicit bias and hate never seems to go away; and more than just simply existence, people want to be able to live in an atmosphere where peace reigns and bias is a long-forgotten footnote in the history of college experience. This is what Christmas means to me: a celebration of difference and cultural plurality that only adds richness, beauty, and color to the mosaic of human existence; it is an invitation to peace precisely because for our sake God became man, truth sprung forth from the earth, and justice came down from heaven (Ps. 85:12).

 

Saint Augustine, in his Christmas sermon, explains: “Truth, whom the heavens cannot contain, has sprung from the earth so that he might be placed in a manger. For whose benefit did such unparalleled greatness come in such lowliness? Certainly, for no personal advantage, but definitely for our great good, if only we believe. Arouse yourself, O man; for you God has become man” (Ser. 185, 1). For my sake, God has done the impossible; the Word has taken on flesh and pitched his tent in our midst (cf. Jn. 1:14). For my sake, infinite greatness, majesty, and power, lies in a manger—fragile, vulnerable, meek, and lowly. For my sake, God has accomplished the impossible, not out of obligation or duty or necessity, but out of an infinite love that has no limits and knows no boundaries. Without money and without price, God has taken human form, and omnipotence is held in the arms of a woman. Truth has sprung! God is made in human form! God is born! And we behold his glory, “full of grace and truth” (Jn. 1:14). Truth, from the earth, has sprung, not for God’s benefit but for ours; not out of divine necessity but of human contingency “if we believe” (Ser. 185, 1).

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In the extended reading of Psalm 85, which is itself a prayer for restoration and a hopeful anticipation of a bountiful future, we read: “Love and truth will meet; justice and peace will kiss. Truth will spring from the earth; justice will look down from heaven” (Ps. 85:11-12). Truth springs forth so that justice and peace may prevail. Infinity humbly takes human form so that we may learn what it means to be truly human: accepting one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, and loving one another because Christ loved us first.

 

Let peace, therefore prevail, for in Christ there is neither slave nor freeborn, no male nor female, there is no black, white, or color; in Christ all are one, offspring of Abraham, and “heirs of the promise” (Gal. 3:28-29). Let peace prevail even when the age-old cry against cultural homicide is as contemporary as the daily newspapers. Let peace prevail because we choose to reject a culture of racial bias and hate speech. Let peace prevail even when people of color are marginalized to the fringes of social privilege and consciousness. Let peace prevail because truth has sprung from the earth, bringing justice, kindness, love, and peace.

 

This is what I think about when I anticipate the holiday season. Even more precisely, this is what I think about when I anticipate Christmas. It is—to me—the ultimate reason for my faith, an invitation to open the doors of my heart to the Redeemer who though “in the form of God” humbled himself, taking the form of a servant to be born in the likeness of humanity (Phil. 2:6-7). Christmas, more than just caroling, the parade of red and green, interesting and groundbreaking movies that highlight the joys of community values, commercialization, and sales, and even the beauty of lights, is an invitation to reflect on the truth of our shared humanity: God, who made us in his likeness humbled himself to become one of us so that we might learn what it means to be truly human. Happy Holidays! Happy Hanukkah! Happy Kwanzaa! But more importantly, Merry Christmas!

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