But where is this peace, this light that we claim Jesus brought into the world? It certainly isn’t obvious in our world today. In the prologue to John’s gospel we read that the life of Jesus was a light to humanity, a light that shines in the darkness, a light that was not overcome by the darkness. It doesn’t say that the light would overcome the darkness or that it would disappear. What it does say is that the darkness will not overcome and dispel the light. It may even be that darkness is needed to reveal the light for it’s only in darkness that light can shine. It is this that gives Christians hope, that no matter how bad things seem to be there is always light and it will triumph. And it’s good to look for and be inspired by the lights that are surely shining in this dark world of ours.
For me some of those lights are to be found in ecological movements such as the Work that Reconnects, The Transformation Network, the Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology, the work of Laudato Si champions here in Scotland, interfaith initiatives for Climate Justice – and these are only the ones I know about. There will be more and able to be multiplied many times over the world. There are also those longing and working for justice and peace, for dialogue between warring faction, cultures, nations and faiths.
Even in the land of Israel and Palestine there are peace initiatives in spite of the horrific violence at the moment, a violence we Christians can’t forget as so much of remembering Jesus is located in that part of the world. The website of Positive News lists twelve of these including The Parents Circle, Combatants for Peace, Women Wage Peace to mention just three. I was heartened to hear of an Interfaith Conference hosted by Archbishop Emeritus Dr Elias Chacour of Acre, Haifa, Nazareth and all Galilee which took place at the Mar Elias Educational Institutions on 18th December. Mar Elias Educational Institutions include a kindergarten, elementary, junior high, and high school located in Ibillin, an Arab village in northern Israel, serving Muslim, Christian and Druze students from all over Galilee. Archbishop Chacour had been asked by the Israeli Department of the Interior, Religious Affairs Section, to host this conference, because of the outstanding work he has done in promoting peace with justice on a practical as well as a theological level. On being asked by the government team working on the conference he was asked if he would prefer not to have Jews present, the Archbishop said: "Of course, I want them present, we have to know what they are thinking. To progress in peace making with justice it is imperative to listen to all sides involved." Apart from our concern for the situation in the Middle East those of us involved in interfaith relations have a concern that the conflict is not played out here in our own country. People here in Scotland including members of religious communities have their own loyalties, histories and opinions which can easily polarise and become a competition in victimhood. There are a few initiatives now that are bringing together members of the Jewish and Muslim faiths to listen to one another in an effort to understand one another’s position and to stop the war destroying good relations here. I am not involved in any of these initiatives but find it encouraging to know they are happening.
This is the light that shines in the darkness which many do not see because they happen quietly and unobtrusively. For Christians Christmas is a reminder that we are children of the light, and must not settle, nor let others settle, for a world lethally scarred by violence, seared by heat, or darkened by fear, to paraphrase the World Council of Churches' Christmas message. It is for us to shine a light wherever we are. I received a Christmas card this year with a quote from Karl Rahner which sums it up, “ It is Christmas. Light the candles. They have more right to exist than all the darkness. It is Christmas that lasts forever. Then in that silent moment, the serious wonder of it strikes us. It is we ourselves lit from within by the radiance of God, who are called to be those candles of hope shining incarnate light on a world and a church too often lost in the dark.”