When the nonviolent Jesus was born two thousand years ago into abject poverty to homeless refugees on the outskirts of a brutal empire, the story goes that angels appeared in the sky to impoverished shepherds singing, "Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth!"
Peace was coming to the world! They were so excited, they couldn't contain themselves.
That's what Christmas is about -- the coming of "peace on earth."
That child grew up to become, in Gandhi's words, "the greatest nonviolent resister in the history of the world." Jesus taught peace, lived peace and blessed peacemakers. "My peace is my gift to you," he said. When we refused to learn "the things that make for peace," he broke down and wept. He took action to end systemic injustice, and he did it in a nonviolent way and, for his civil disobedience, he was brutally executed by the Roman Empire and died forgiving his killers. When he rose from the dead, he came back not seeking vengeance or retaliation, but once again, offering his gift of peace. "Peace be with you," he said over and over again. Now you practice nonviolence and go forth as a peacemaker into the world of war. That was his message.
Two thousand years later, the world continues to reject "the things that make for peace." It remains stuck in the old cycle of war, militarism, empire, poverty and injustice.
This time, however, the empire's weapons have the power to destroy the entire planet. The money spent funding our wars and weapons bankrupts us and leaves millions in hunger. On top of that, our greed and systemic violence destroys the environment. Catastrophic climate change is upon us, and looks to bring unprecedented new levels of violence and destruction in its wake.
Once again, we categorically reject that Christmas gift of "peace on earth" and pursue the tired-old paradigm of "war on earth."
Last week, I returned from a peace mission to Afghanistan, where I saw for myself the epitome of poverty, warfare, imperial occupation and environmental destruction. In the last few decades, two million people have been killed there in war. Our current war on the children of Afghanistan is the longest in our own nation's history, but you don't hear much about it and folks don't seem that concerned. War is normal, permanent, institutionalized, taken for granted. This year, the U.S. launched over 330 drone attacks in Afghanistan, and over 1700 Afghan children have been killed or harmed in the conflict -- 85 times the number of the horrific Sandy Hook School massacre. We deliberately, systematically, intentionally wage war, kill children, and pursue "war on earth."
But that's not the way of Jesus, the meaning of Christmas, or the call of the Gospel. Indeed, support for war, weapons or killing in any form is a complete betrayal of the nonviolent Jesus. It mocks his life, Christmas and the God of peace.
That's why I've come to the conclusion that no one can claim to be an authentic Christian any more if they support warfare and weapons. You cannot seriously call yourself a follower of the nonviolent, peacemaking Jesus, whom we celebrate and honor at Christmas, if you own guns, support our wars, defend our nuclear weapons arsenal, tolerate executions and catastrophic climate change, and participate in violence in any form. Anyone who supports warfare, weapons or killing, even if they be a priest, minister or bishop, goes against the nonviolent Jesus. To be a Christian is to be a practitioner of creative nonviolence. To follow the peacemaking Jesus means becoming a peacemaker.
If the birth of the nonviolent Jesus heralds the coming of "peace on earth," then those who honor or follow him must try to welcome that great Christmas gift of peace. We join to renounce violence, join the global peace movement, work for disarmament and spend our lives making peace with everyone.
Christmas invites us to reclaim our common imagination for peace, to herald a new future of peace, and so to resist the old paradigm of global war-making.
That vision of peace, announced by the nonviolent Jesus as God's "reign of peace," is breath-taking. It upholds a world without borders, one human family where everyone sees everyone else as a beloved sister or brother. When we pray for the coming of that reign, we welcome God's gift of peace with all its challenging global, social, economic and political implications.
To state the obvious: "Peace on earth" means "No More War." From now on, nonviolent Christians, resist war, call for the immediate end of our war in Afghanistan and our nuclear arsenal, and work for a world beyond our wildest imagination -- a new world without war, weapons, drones, killings, nuclear weapons, poverty, starvation, corporate greed, violence or environmental destruction.
Christmas invites a beautiful opportunity to renew our own personal nonviolence and commit ourselves once again to ending war and killing, to building a stronger global peace movement, and to lifting up that glorious vision of a nonviolent world.
As we celebrate the birth of the nonviolent Jesus, I hope we will honor his way of nonviolence and commit ourselves again to becoming people of nonviolence. That's what the spiritual life is about -- turning from our addiction to violence and war, and becoming sober people of nonviolence and peace. As we do, we become, like Jesus, peacemakers, and we will be blessed.