This piece was originally printed on page 3 of the December 4th, 2005 Santa Ramona Chronicle in a weekly column named "Gabbin with God." Though Paster Emmerick is no longer with us; having passed not long after this was published, I think he would agree that sometimes to find a way forward we need to look back, so join me in revisiting Pastor Emmerick's final holiday column.
"Peace on Earth."
A frequent fixture of the holiday season are hopes, prayers, songs and discussion about Peace on Earth. What is it that the angels meant when they said "Peace on Earth?" This is something that I've thought about quite a bit since the day I was ordained. I recall reading an article in the New York Times about a Doctor from a Central African Republic who left his country to study medicine in France. After several decades as a physician, the article said “he decided to leave the peace and security of his life in France in order to bring much-needed medical care to the people of his homeland.” In this case, peace was a physical location and an economic position that guaranteed happiness and security. Is that what the angels meant when they spoke of “peace on earth”?
Another instance of peace I recall from my time as a source of comfort to those of my flock. An evacuee from New Orleans sat in my office and said with a heavy sigh that more than anything else, he wanted some peace. For this person, peace involved the end of the emotional upheaval that tens of thousands of displaced persons from that city feel today. Peace would be a sense of once again feeling settled in some permanent home and knowing that their lives will eventually be restored to some order and normalcy. The peace desired by the man from New Orleans was not that much different from what the man from France had given up in returning home to Africa. However was the peace sought, or forsaken what the Angels over Bethlehem intended?
Another reference to peace came to mind when I read the words of a person who had come out of a 20-year addiction to heroin. When attempting to explain why his addiction lasted so long and why his attraction to that drug was so powerful, he said, “heroin gave me a little bit of peace for a short period of time.” That person is not alone; our nation is crowded with people whose only way to soothe their spirits and calm their troubled minds is a reliance on drugs or alcohol.
Then there are the words from “Ma Dear” in The Diary of a Mad Black Woman. Cicely Tyson was talking about the words “Peace, be still” that Jesus spoke to the winds and waves on the Sea of Galilee. Ma Dear reached into her purse and took out her hand gun and remarked that if you want to have some “peace be still” you better get yourself a “piece of steel.” There are a great many people who seem to feel more at peace when they are carrying a gun. Is that what the angels had in mind on the night that Christ was born? Jesus does speak of trading ones cloak for a sword, but I do not believe as the Marines do that peace comes through superior firepower.
So I return to my starting thought... peace. Is peace found by moving to a location that affords a quality of life that removes risk and danger as with the African physician? Is peace a state of mind, a deep assurance that life will be restored to order as with the evacuee from New Orleans? Is peace the buzz, the high, the altered state of mind that comes to addicts and alcoholics once they have their vice of choice? Is peace the reassurance of a pistol in the waistband of your pants or tucked in a purse? I could say that peace comes only from God, and nothing else of this world can offer the peace promised by the angels. I could say peace cannot be experienced by a single person or by a certain group if, at the same time, it is being denied or withheld from others. There is also the thought that peace cannot be had until it is inside us first. We cannot be changed unless we wish it, we can only make change where we are able.
As I bring this to a close I feel we should remember that we are not the ones making the first move in the process of peace; God has already done that in Bethlehem, but even still let me challenge you all if I may. Be the peace that you want in the world. If you're leaned up against the bar and the regular drunk stumbles past and causes you to spill your drink just smile and say "Merry Christmas." If you're shopping and someone else takes that cute top you were reaching for, smile and hope it does her good and consider that it may have hung more often in the back of your closet than off your shoulders.
If you see someone who cannot do for themselves, do onto others as you'd wish they might do onto you. This is the season for giving and I think we can all agree that we are nothing without our fellow man, A server makes no tips without customers and a dealer makes no money without addicts, so if we can't find peace, which I do pray for every day, let us at least find kindness and balance.