Bombs flashed in the dark of the night. Gunshots pierced the air.
It was Christmas time, 1914, on the western front in World War I. In the extraordinary opera, “Silent Night,” German, Scottish and French armies fight in Belgium, near the French border.
World War I — surely a cataclysmic event.
“There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.”
We’ve been through quite a month – emotional times since the presidential election, regardless of how we voted, what we hoped would happen. Many are jubilant; many are devastated, scared. And many are concerned about the divisiveness we see across the country, the divisiveness we may even experience in our own lives with those whom we know intimately. To some it has felt like an earthquake, the ground shifting suddenly beneath us. A cataclysm.
Jesus lays out for us in the gospels a grim description of the ends of time:
He speaks of wars and insurrections, and says, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom … .”
“But before all this occurs,” he warns, “they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name.”
At times, we know what it feels like to have an earthquake shake up our world. A sudden loss: a death of a person we love; the loss of a job; the loss of a friend; a diagnosis of serious illness; the loss of our home. And sometimes it can simply be the loss of our thinking that we understand how the world works; how our lives are going; that we think we know what we know. It can come out of nowhere and shake us to the very core of our foundation, so that we indeed feel that no stone is left upon another in the temple; that all are indeed thrown down. This can lead to despair, to a loss of hope. How can we heal the divisiveness we see and hear around us? How can we have peace with those with whom we disagree?
Even after describing all of the horrific events that we can expect at the end of time, Jesus proclaims that we are to fear not:
“But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.”
Not a hair of your head will perish.
Jesus says that because he knew that Love had already won over evil; that nothing can knock Love down from her throne. So how do we put that assurance into action in our own lives?
Voices throughout the past month have called us to reconcile with those we consider to be opponents. To listen to each other. To talk to each other. To learn from the other what we need to know to understand him or her better. My hairstylist, the mother of a 7-year-old boy, put it this way, using the words we might say to young children who are fighting: Everybody just needs to “be nice.” And on November 9, the day after the election, the Rt. Rev. Rob Wright , Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta, wrote in a letter to the people in his care:
We may hold different political views and affiliations, but we are first and foremost followers of Jesus Christ. That makes us trans-political. You might say we are ‘in politics, but not of politics.’ Being ultimately citizens of God’s Kingdom, and one American family, I pray that in the days ahead we will distinguish ourselves as people utterly committed to reconciliation in thought, word and deed … Right now, you and I have an opportunity to exercise our discipleship of Jesus Christ by being peacemakers right here in middle and north Georgia. The power and grace to accomplish that comes from this simple prayer (from St. Francis of Assisi): ‘Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love.’ I recently had a brief conversation with a woman who said that the election had gone her way. I responded by commenting that she would be in the “jubilant” category. She said, “Yes,” and that’s all there was to it. No gloating on her part, no damning of the other side, no lording it over another. She in that moment exemplified the kind of conversation we can all have now. No blaming, no assumptions about the other’s motives, no untoward exhibitions of celebration or resentment. She simply said what she wanted to say and let it go at that.
In the opera “Silent Night,” the troops declare a truce and celebrate Christmas together with champagne and chocolate and songs. It truly is an amazing, fact-based story, and one that gives comfort still. That is what we are being called to do. To call a truce, to reach out to others – particularly those with whom we disagree. To get to know them better, find out more about them and what matters to them. To get to know why they feel the way they do. To celebrate our one-ness. And as we, together and with God, do that, we will stand in awe and jubilation as we watch the silent night give birth to a holy night, a night when, at least at times, all can be calm and all can be bright.