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Seeking peace in a time of war

December 22, 2008|By DAVID YOUNT / Scripps Howard News Service

Our mail this time of year is filled with Christmas greetings expressing the wish for world peace. Alas, peace is not the kind of gift that fits in Santa's sleigh. After all these centuries of human conflict, peace appears as elusive as ever.

St. Luke in his Gospel reminds us that Jesus of Nazareth was born at a time when the civilized world actually enjoyed a respite from conflict. To be sure, the Pax Romana that marked the birth of the Prince of Peace was built on slavery and was imposed by cruel physical force. Still, that brief vacation from conflict during the reign of Caesar Augustus respected law, personal responsibility, and civic virtue.

The blind poet John Milton honored the birth of Jesus with these words: "No war, or battle's sound/Was heard the world around./The idle spear and shield were high up hung ..."

In this 2008th year of the Christian era some 2.1 billion Christians in 238 countries are joined by millions more who seek to emulate the example of the Prince of Peace. Nevertheless, once again, we celebrate the anniversary of his birth with the world still in conflict.

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That is not to suggest that the Prince of Peace failed in his mission. "My peace I leave to you," he explained, "but not as the world gives" (John 14:27). Christian peace is much more than the mere absence of armed conflict. It rests on the universal fatherhood of God, human dignity, forgiveness, generosity, and love.

Such was the allure of Christianity that, within three centuries of Jesus' birth, the Roman Empire itself was converted to his faith, establishing standards for civilized behavior based not only on justice but also on love.

Earlier this month the world celebrated the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations General Assembly. Today, a majority of citizens in every nation in the world supports these rights, which can assure the foundation of a lasting peace. Even majorities in authoritarian regimes yearn for the full assurance of these freedoms.

These rights include freedom of religion and expression, prohibition of torture, equal rights for women, racial and ethnic equality, respect for the individual, and economic opportunity.

They assume governance by and for the people.

These ingredients for a peaceful world are not the property of any one religious faith, but they reflect the will of the Prince of Peace. Should all governments ensure these rights to their citizens, and nations beat their swords into plowshares, there will remain the obligation of individuals to make peace with one another. Then, together, we can seek a world foreseen by Isaiah (11:6) where "the wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together. And a little child shall lead them."

That child will be the Prince of Peace.

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