How does Christmas contribute to peace? The Church univocally confesses that it comes through the babe in the manger whom we call Lord. This is the bedrock on which true peace is established. But in what way is Christian peace ‘spread to all the earth abroad’ in the midst of our conflicted world? Before reflecting on the question, let’s consider an example from history.
Friar Antonio de Montesinos was a member of the Dominican order and served on the island of Hispaniola, which the Spanish had claimed as their first colony in the Americas in 1493. Montesinos was appalled by the colonists’ enslavement of the local natives, a practice he considered abhorrent to Scripture. On the Sunday before Christmas in 1511, he preached a sermon to his flock on the text “I am a voice crying in the wilderness.” Montesinos could not foresee it, but the anger that was sparked by his brave words would lead to a chain of events culminating in a formal debate before the king of Spain over proper treatment of the native population. “This first cry on behalf of human liberty in the New World was a turning point in the history of America . . .”.1
In order to make your sins against the Indians known to you I have come up on this pulpit, I who am a voice of Christ crying in the wilderness of this island, and therefore it behooves you to listen, not with careless attention, but with all your heart and senses, so that you may hear it; for this is going to be the strangest voice that ever you heard, the harshest and hardest and most awful and most dangerous that ever you expected to hear . . . . This voice says that you are in mortal sin, that you live and die in it, for the cruelty and tyranny you use in dealing with these innocent people. Tell me, by what right or justice do you keep these Indians in such a cruel and horrible servitude? On what authority have you waged a detestable war against these people, who dwelt quietly and peacefully on their own land? . . . Why do you keep them so oppressed and weary, not giving them enough to eat nor taking care of them in their illness? For with the excessive work you demand of them they fall ill and die, or rather you kill them with your desire to extract and acquire gold every day. And what care do you take that they should be instructed in religion? . . . Are these not men? Have they not rational souls? Are you not bound to love them as you love yourselves? . . . Be certain that, in such a state of this, you can no more be saved than the Moors or Turks.2
Few of us have opportunity to preach as Montesinos, but nevertheless we can still actively spread peace. During seasonal celebrations in which we consume massive amounts of eggnog and sugar cookies at breakneck speed, we can carve out time to worship God and thus allow the peace of Christ to rule in our hearts. Such devotion is at least part of what it means to live in and for the Prince of Peace. And with this peace residing in our souls, we will then be poised to extend it to the world in ways that bring genuine healing and hope.
1 Lewis Hanke, The Spanish Struggle for Justice in the Conquest of America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1949), 17.
2 Ibid., 17.