As we prepare for Christmas once again we look forward to our celebration of the birth of our Saviour, the 'Prince of Peace'. Yet, in a year that marks the 70th anniversary of the beginning of that terrible 2nd World War, in which millions upon millions of lives were lost, we still find it difficult to look forward with any confidence to a peaceful future. Instead, there are still far too many countries around the world struggling under the yoke of war, and too many brave soldiers have died this year in the continuing conflict in Afghanistan.
When Christ was born, the angel declared to the frightened shepherds, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests." But the world has seen very few years of peace since Christ came. I recently discovered this fable on peace, which challenges me.
"Tell me the weight of a snowflake," a sparrow asked a wild dove.
"Nothing more than nothing," was the answer.
"In that case, I must tell you a marvellous story," the sparrow said. "I sat on the branch of a fir, close to its trunk, when it began to snow - not heavily, not in a raging blizzard - no, just like in a dream, without a sound, and without any violence. Since I did not have anything better to do, I counted the snowflakes settling on the twigs and needles of my branch. Their number was exactly 3,741,952. When the 3,741,953rd dropped onto the branch, nothing more than nothing, as you say, the branch broke off."
Having said that, the sparrow flew away.
The dove, since Noah's time an authority on the matter, thought about the story for awhile, and finally said to herself, "Perhaps only one person's voice is lacking for peace to come to the world."
Anne Frank, that young heroine of the second world war, wrote these famous words that will always touch our hearts: 'In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can't build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness. I hear the ever-approaching thunder, which will destroy us too. I can feel the sufferings of millions, and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquillity will return again.'
Pope John Paul VI once wrote: 'The soul of peace is love, which ... comes from the love of God and expresses itself in love for men.' Our Lord Jesus Christ said: 'My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.'Surely therein lies the key to peace. That is why Jesus Christ is called the 'Prince of Peace'because He offers us the key to peace -love.
In that wonderful Gospel reading that we read at our Christmas Midnight Communion Service are those words which make our hearts leap as we hear them once again: 'Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God - children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.'To be born 'of God'is to begin to take on those 'Christ like'qualities of love, joy, peace, patience , kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. It is these qualities that will ultimately bring about peace in our world.
As Henry Van Dyke once wrote: 'To be glad of life because it gives you the chance to love and to work and to play and to look up at the stars - to be satisfied with your possessions but not contented with yourself until you have made the best of them - to despise nothing in the world except falsehood and meanness, and to fear nothing except cowardice - to be governed by your admirations rather than by your disgusts - to covet nothing that is your neighbour's except his kindness of heart and gentleness of manners - to think seldom of your enemies, often of your friends, and every day of Christ - these are little guideposts on the footpath to peace.'
So, let us make a resolution this Christmas, as we celebrate the birth of the Christ-child. Let us resolve to be obedient to Christ's command and love each other. Let us resolve to live out our lives as Henry Van Dyke suggests, and then perhaps we shall be the 3,741,953rd snowflake, and make a vital difference to the peace of the world.
Pauline and I wish you a very happy, peaceful and blessed Christmas.