The story goes that when the nonviolent Jesus was born into abject poverty to homeless refugees on the outskirts of a brutal empire, angels appeared in the sky to impoverished shepherds singing, “Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth!” That child grew up to become, in Gandhi’s words, “the greatest nonviolent resister in the history of the world,” and was subsequently executed by the empire for his insistence on justice.
This weekend, as tens of millions of Christians across the country celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace, the U.S. wages war in Iraq, Afghanistan, Colombia and elsewhere; crushes the hungry, homeless, elderly, imprisoned and refugee; and maintains the world’s ultimate terrorist threat–its nuclear arsenal.
Like Herod, Pilate and their soldiers, we have rejected the angels’ call for “peace on earth.” When Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and their warmaking supporters celebrate Christmas, they mock Christ and his steadfast nonviolence, and carry on the massacre of the innocents.
If the angels are correct, then Christmas requires us to welcome God’s gift of peace on earth. In such a time, that means we have to work for an end to war. Christmas calls us to become like Christ–people of active, creative, steadfast nonviolence who give our lives in resistance to empire and war.
In pursuit of this Christmas gift, a group of us met this week with Bill Richardson, the Governor of New Mexico, and asked him to dismantle our nuclear weapons and disarm Los Alamos, the birthplace of the bomb. In this day and age, it is surprising that any elected official would meet and listen to anti-war activists. Yet Richardson asked to begin a public dialogue with us about nuclear disarmament. We take this as a sign of hope, even as we continue our protests at Los Alamos.
When Gandhi was asked one Christmas day for his thoughts about Christmas, he spoke about the connection between the wood of the crib–Christ’s poverty–and the wood of the cross–Christ’s nonviolent resistance to evil. He said Christmas summons us to the same lifelong nonviolence. It has social, economic, and political implications. I think, like Gandhi, that we have to make those connections and pursue those implications. Here are a few of them.
First, Christmas celebrates the birth of a life of perfect nonviolence and calls us to become people of active nonviolence. Christmas invites us to practice the vulnerable, disarming simplicity of children, to live the disarmed life in solidarity with the children of the world, and to spend our lives in resistance to empire. It summons us to study, teach, practice and experiment with creative nonviolence that we too might live the life of nonviolence which Jesus exemplified so that one day peace might reign one earth.
Second, Christmas demonstrates that God sides with the poor, becomes one with the poor, and walks among the poor. God does not side with the rulers, the rich or the powerful, but with the homeless, the hungry and the refugees. Christmas puts poverty front and center and demands that we work to abolish poverty itself so that every human being has food, clothing, housing, healthcare, education, employment and a lifetime of peace.
Third, since Christmas illustrates how God sides with the poor in order to liberate the oppressed from poverty and injustice, it calls us to reject greed, give away our money and possessions to those in need, and also live in solidarity with the disenfranchised.
Fourth, Christmas pushes us to stand on the margins of society, where we will find God. Christmas announces that every human being is a beloved son and daughter of the God of love. Every human life is beautiful in the eyes of God, since God has become one of us. From now on, we reject exclusivity, racism, sexism, and discrimination of any kind, and embrace everyone as equal. We stand on the margins with the excluded, the marginalized, the outsiders and outcasts. From there, we envision a new reconciled humanity.
Fifth, as Gandhi pointed out, there is a straight line from the crib to the cross. Christ practiced steadfast nonviolent resistance to imperial injustice and was brutally executed. That bloody outcome is crucial to the story, and calls us to work for the abolition of the death penalty so that Christ will never be crucified again and the killing stops once and for all.
Sixth, since the birth of Christ means that every human life is beloved by God, that all human beings are God’s children, we have to treat every human being on the planet as our very own sister and brother which means we must oppose war and work for the abolition of war itself. In particular, we denounce Bush’s war on Iraq, demand that the troops return home, and call for reparations and nonviolent solutions to the horrors we have brought upon the people of the Middle East.
Seventh, if the angels celebrate the coming of “peace on earth,” that means they are environmentalists. We too have to protect the earth, oppose its destruction, defend God’s creatures and the universe, and help make the earth a place of peace for every life form.
Eighth, Christmas means working for the abolition of nuclear weapons. These weapons are idolatrous and blasphemous. Their very existence insults the God of peace and mocks the nonviolent Jesus. We can’t celebrate Christmas and at the same time work at Los Alamos, Livermore Labs, the Nevada Test Site, or the Pentagon, or be silent while this work goes on. We must reject this love or death and destruction, and pursue life, the God of life, and a new world without nuclear weapons.
Ninth, Christmas calls us individually to prepare for the gift of peace on earth. It invites us to welcome peace in our hearts and our personal lives, and learn to be at peace with ourselves, with God, with our families, friends, neighbors, and local communities, and with the whole world.
Finally, Christmas invites us to be human in an inhuman time. The scandal of the story is that God wants to become human and show us how to be human. We, on the other hand, want to play God, to be powerful, in charge, in control, to dominate the world. Perhaps the best way to celebrate Christmas and welcome the beautiful gift of peace on earth is simply to be human, despite the callous inhumanity around us, and to trust that our modest, vulnerable humanity–our nonviolence, compassion and love–like the humanity of the child in the crib, will one day bear good fruit and sow the seeds of peace on earth.