"And so this is Christmas, and what have you done?" That's the question which John Lennon puts to us in his famous Christmas song. In the chorus, he gets right to the point, to the heart of Christmas: "War is over, if you want it."
For some, that might seem like a leap of faith, but I think John Lennon's theology was better than most. If you want to celebrate Christmas, he says, work for the end of war and the culture of war. Spend your life pursuing a new culture of peace for everyone.
Christmas celebrates the birth of the most active person of nonviolence in the history of the world, as Gandhi once described Jesus. In the Gospel account of Jesus' birth to homeless refugees, angels announce to poor shepherds the coming of peace on earth. He grew up to become a great peacemaker, a nonviolent activist who denounced war and systemic injustice and offered the gift of peace to everyone near and far.
The life of Jesus is a record of pure, radical nonviolence, like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught the methodology and vision of nonviolence--"Offer no violent resistance to one who does evil," "Love your enemies," "Hunger and thirst for justice," "Blessed are the peacemakers." He formed a community of nonviolent resisters and organized a grassroots movement of nonviolence to disarm everyone. He led his campaign of nonviolence from the countryside to Jerusalem where he engaged in dramatic nonviolent civil disobedience and was immediately arrested and killed. But he lived on in the community and the movement, and that creative nonviolence continues today.
To claim the name of Christian is to be a practitioner of Gospel nonviolence. To celebrate the birth of the nonviolent Jesus is to do our part in his ongoing grassroots movement of nonviolence to welcome the gift of peace on earth. "War is over," Jesus announced. "Peace is yours, if you want it. Get involved and join the movement of nonviolence."
To be a Christian is to renounce every trace of violence and carry on Jesus' grassroots movement of Gospel nonviolence. It is to see life through the eyes of peace, and the nonviolent struggle for peace on earth. It means renouncing our own violence and our complicity in the culture of violence. We get rid of our guns, stop supporting the military, turn off our televisions, serve the poor, welcome the refugee, advocate for justice, and work for disarmament. It means upholding a whole new vision of shared humanity, a whole new world of nonviolence.
What's so interesting is that over a hundred years ago, Gandhi discovered that every religion is rooted in nonviolence. He realized that nonviolence lay at the heart of Hinduism. With his friend Abdul Gaffer Khan, he learned that nonviolence was central to Islam. His Jewish friends taught him that shalom/nonviolence was key to Judaism. Buddhism, he saw, places nonviolence in the air we breathe. And he began reading the Sermon on the Mount every day and found there what he considered the best blueprint of nonviolence ever written.
We all need to rediscover the nonviolence at the heart of every spiritual tradition. That will help us discern the prejudice and false claims we hear these days. It will also help us pursue a new culture of interfaith nonviolence.
But Christians first and foremost need to rediscover their nonviolence. We have not just ignored the nonviolence of Jesus; we have outright rejected it and mocked it. In its place, we have created cults of violence that have nothing to do with the nonviolent Jesus. In the name of the false gods of war, we justify violence, hatred, corporate greed, racism, guns, warfare and environmental destruction.
Each year, Christmas invites Christians to reject violence and war, to break with the betrayal of past Christian history, and to start over again on the journey of nonviolence in the footsteps of the nonviolent Jesus.
Christmas is a celebration of nonviolence, pure and simple. It invites us to repent of violence and choose once again Jesus' way of nonviolence. It summons us to name warfare as obsolete and get on with the work of practicing nonviolence in our personal lives; joining the global grassroots movement of nonviolence for disarmament and justice; and institutionalizing nonviolent conflict resolution.
Christmas calls us to a high ideal: the abolition of war itself, and along with it, the abolition of poverty, corporate greed, racism, executions, empire, fascism, nuclear weapons, and environmental destruction. This goal is achievable, if we want it.
That's the message of Christmas. Peace is ours, if we want it. John Lennon was right. So were Gandhi and Dr. King. We, too, can side with the voices and visionaries of peace and do our part to hasten the abolition of war and injustice and the coming of a new world of nonviolence.
That's a goal, a vision, a way of life worth celebrating.
Rev. John Dear is the author most recently of Thomas Merton Peacemaker (Orbis Books); Walking the Way: Following Jesus on the Path of Nonviolence (23rd Publications); and The Nonviolent Life (Pace e Bene Press). He helps to organize www.campaignnonviolence.org. See: www.johndear.org