This Christmas, live the choice of healing, not harm

Dec 24, 2023
Christmas Scene with twinkling stars and brighter star of Bethlehem with nativity characters. Nativity Christmas story under starry sky and moving wispy clouds.

Out of our hearts can come thoughts that are pure and beautiful or “evil intentions, murder…” What we think and let influence our thinking shapes our words and actions, for good or ill. How important therefore are the choices we make! The choice to nurture love with words and actions that bring healing as compared to the choices which just cause more harm. Frankly, people who cannot control their capacity for angry violence should be in therapy, not in political power.

What we think and let influence our thinking shapes our words and actions, for good or ill.

On December 10, ‘Pearls and Irritations’ published a picture and story from a Church in Bethlehem where baby Jesus is placed in a setting devastated by war.

This reflection aims to convey the peaceful universality of Christmas and how that particular image can be changed by our human choices.

At our traditional Midnight Christmas Service, we bless the Crib praying:

“You came to us as a helpless child to share our vulnerabilities, our joys and sorrows, and to teach us your way of love, our hearts and our homes to become Bethlehem spaces, open to receive the Light and Love of God and share it with others.”

The prayer invites us back to Bethlehem to renew our sharing of the Light and Love of God, vivid in the Nativity scene.

The image below is of the smiling Madonna in the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem.

God’s gift of God’s self encourages our gifts to one another, including in how we will live the message of Christmas.

So what most matters this year?

Here is one suggestion based on the very human choices of adults in the Christmas story.

Reading the first and second chapters of Matthew’s Gospel, we see the faithful loveliness of Joseph and Mary.

They adjust their lives when the divine comes to them through the messengers of angels.

They go to Bethlehem. Jesus is born. Wise ones, the Magi, come from the East.

On their knees in wondrous delight, the Magi offer their gifts and speak of the star they had followed.

When the Magi departs, an angel of the Lord appears to Joseph and says, ”Get up, take the child and his mother with you, and escape to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you, because Herod intends to search for the child and do away with him.”[Matthew 2.13]

In sum, we see Joseph, Mary and the Magi respond to their spiritual messengers with love and trust, notwithstanding all the complexity this brings to their daily lives.

By contrast, and here is the contemporary poignancy, Herod, the one with political power, finds this spiritual news perturbing and soon becomes violent.

His response is egocentric. He seems to feel threatened; unable to share the delight of the Magi as they tell their wondrous tale.

In anger he then inflicts suffering on the innocent.

Herod orders and others then obey his decision to have all the male children, two years old or under, killed in the Bethlehem district. [Matthew 2.16-17].

The lesson for us is stark.

This year we have seen so much suffering of innocents caused by those with power and those who obey their orders.

The contemporary manifestations of Herod’s angry violence are in many places but clearly, in the sufferings caused by conflicts between and within nations.

Frankly, people who cannot control their capacity for angry violence should be in therapy, not in political power.

Their hearts hold the wrong intent and their capacity to rationalise their violence can seem utterly bottomless!

It is an old wisdom that, if our first reaction to someone else’s delight is negative -resentment; bitterness and the like – we should stop everything we are doing and go immediately on retreat to seek greater purity of heart!

Hence, poignantly too, as we bless the Crib, we recall what Jesus later teaches us about the ‘way of love.’

Including our need for attention to the “things that come out of our mouth from our hearts.” [Matthew 15.18-20]

For, out of our hearts can come thoughts that are pure and beautiful or “evil intentions, murder…”

What we think and let influence our thinking shapes our words and actions, for good or ill.

As the Buddha and other spiritual guides also teach: we become what we think!

How important therefore are the choices we make! The choice to nurture love with words and actions that bring healing as compared to the choices which just cause more harm.

When the repeated choice is to harm, we see tragically where this leads.

How will the current citizens of Israel and Palestine, including in Bethlehem, heal and recover trust?

How will those in such places as South Sudan, Sudan, Myanmar, Iran, Ukraine and Russia also heal and recover trust? [If, that is, the violence ever ends and there is some negotiated peacebuilding.]

Even when and by whom the cycle of violence began is often a contested narrative.

But we do have spiritual and relational learnings that can help us build a sustainable peace culture.

Our learnings include the practice of meditation so that, with self-awareness, we make more careful choices as to our thoughts and words. Meditation helps us become more aware of our own projections and mistakes in times of egocentricity.

Accordingly, we will continue to offer events that link Meditation and Peacebuilding through careful dialogue. https://meditationaustralia.org.au/meditation-and-peacebuilding/

At the recent UNCOP28, many of us offered Meditations at the Faith Pavillion.

My experience of this was of profound co-operation for the common good.

A key organiser at the Faith Pavillion, Rabbi Yonathan Neril, gave us copies of ‘A Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together’, Signed by His Holiness Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmad Al-Tayyeb.

The Document concludes by hoping to help achieve a universal peace that all can enjoy in this life and saying that “God has created us to understand one another and live as brothers and sisters who love one another.”

This aspiration accords with all that is enchanting about Christmas.

To help us be more peaceful together, we are encouraged to adopt and renew “a culture of dialogue as the path; mutual cooperation as the code of conduct; reciprocal understanding as the method and standard.”

This is the path to our better future together.

And, as a First Nation elder friend reminds me from her research, the tone of all our communication in daily life helps cultivate peacefulness… Tone of voice; tone of gesture…

Anything friendly, actually, that helps with a gradual reduction in tensions!

All this peacebuilding work is now very necessary.

With others, we can and must offer what it is possible for us to do, yes?

Ever since the angel and a “great throng of the heavenly host” [Luke 2:13] sang to those shepherds, watching their flocks by night outside Bethlehem, Christmas has been a message of peace for absolutely everyone on the planet!

Together may we sustain the Christmas message – choosing to give and forgive in a way that brings healing and peace.

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