Peace: The promise of Christmas

Posted: Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Remember this one? "If a tree falls in the middle of the forest and there's nobody there to hear it, does it still make a sound?" I am in the camp that would argue, "no." Sound and hearing are inextricably linked, simply put, no ear, no hear, hence no sound. It's like radio waves - they're all around us but without a receiver of some sort, we don't hear the sound these emanating energy waves produce.

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In a way the same thing happens with the seasonal sentiment "peace on earth, goodwill to men." Peace and goodwill are just ideas, soundless falling trees in an empty forest, until they find a sympathetic receiver willing to take them to heart, and in turn, give them expression in the action of their living. While we may hear these words in our songs of Christmas or utter them in our nightly prayers, we won't know the real blessing of the idea of "peace on earth, goodwill to men" until we individually hold them in our heart and express them in the living of our day to day lives.

Peace and goodwill begin within each one of us, something I had the opportunity to witness while in the check out line at the store recently. Almost all of the checkout counters were open and six or so customers were in line at each one of them. Resigned to the fact my departure from the store was going to take longer than I preferred, I tried to at least select a line that would move faster than the others. Alas, it didn't seem to work out that way. My patience and peace grew more and more frayed as it seemed the people in the adjacent line moved through their checkout process much faster than mine as I inched my way to the check out stand. When I finally placed my basket on the stand's conveyor belt, I was surprised to see how efficient and precise the clerk was in completing her tasks. There was no wasted motion in her movements as she steadily and systematically moved each item across the scanner and into the bag. However, as she handed the receipt to her customers, she paused, looked each one in the eye, smiled and said, "Thank you and have a happy holiday." Without exception I saw each customer in front of me pause and return a smile and greeting to her as well. Right there in the hustle and bustle of the main event of the Christmas shopping season I was witness to "peace on earth, goodwill to men." No lofty theory or grand worldly idealism, just plain, simple, applied practice...a peaceful pause and a wish of wellness and joy. A falling tree heard in the forest.

An inspirational reading on world peace from Unity's Daily Word magazine reminds us that, "As we give expression to the peace of God that is within us, we are the peace we want to experience in the world." Countless men and women throughout history have proven the truth of this adage. One was the Tibetan monk Sonam Gyatso whose peaceful presence and nature so impressed the sixteenth century Mongolian warlord Altan Khan, that Khan directed an end to the hostilities and hatred between his people and their neighbors from Korea, Japan and Europe. Gyatso, the first man to be given the title Dalai Lama, shows us how the peace within one man's heart can bring about harmonious co-existence between people and nations of the world.

It is often said that peace is the promise of Christmas, a promise made real as one by one we connect with the peace and joy within and share it with others in the world through the words and deeds of our lives. "Thank you and have a happy holiday."

• Rev. Robert Buttcane is the spiritual director for Unity of Juneau.

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