"Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests." These words of the angels to the shepherds at the Birth of Christ in Bethlehem are the words addressed to all of us on this Christmas. The two parts of the angels' message go hand in hand: the first – Glory to God, the second – Peace to those on whom His favor rests. As we are greeted with this message, perhaps the aspect which deals with peace is the one that is very much yearned for by all of us.
As we look around our world today, certainly a lack of peace prevails. We see war, violence, terror attacks, prejudice, discrimination, religious persecution and so many other aspects of human intolerance. In our own nation there is a great deal of unrest, mistrust and judgment that prevails in practically every story of news that we read or every incident that occurs. We all fear a threat to our safety as we see so many mass shootings and terror attacks taking place in our very midst. Peace is a message that we long to hear and very much want to possess in our world and nation today.
Peace is something also that we seek in our own families and personal lives. We may be experiencing family tensions and personal factions which tear at the very heart of personal peace. Inside each and every one of us are anxieties, worries and concerns pertaining to health, financial matters and so many needs before us which makes peace seem very elusive. The words of the angels announcing peace may seem far away from us in our lives and even at Christmas, but we long to hear them.
What we are experiencing is nothing new to humanity and was part of the very world into which Jesus, the Prince of Peace, came. He truly became one of us, with all of our lack of peace and security, and took our fragile human nature to Himself in order to bring us a peace which is not found in us but in Him. As we gaze upon the infant in the manger, we gaze upon the glory of God in the highest in His infinite love and giving of Himself to us. From the very beginning of His human existence, Jesus was enmeshed in a lack of peace which caused Him to be born away from His home and subject to Herod who tried to put Him to death. Jesus accepted all of this, and ultimately His death upon the Cross as a criminal, in order that He might bring us true peace in a world which seeks peace, but always in the wrong place. The words of peace, which the angels announce the Birth of Christ, will be continuing words of the Lord throughout His ministry and after His Resurrection.
To find true peace, we need to look at the first part of the angels’ greeting at Bethlehem, “Glory to God in the highest.” God's glory is His love. His glory is not in His power to do all things, to know all things, to create all things and even His ability to negate all things. His glory is in His love. God gives Himself away for all eternity and gives Himself to us even when we turn away from Him. God wants us to be in a real relationship with Him and it is this relationship which gives peace to our lives and to our world. So much does God want this relationship with us, that He became one of us in giving us His Son and being born as a helpless infant of the Virgin Mary. He walks with us, speaks with us, comforts us, dies and rises with us and gives us life and hope in every moment of our being. While things will never be perfect as long as we are in this world, the peace which only God can give is always there.
We especially live at a time when the true glory of God is called into question. It seems that more and more God is no longer the center of our creation but that humanity wishes to replace God with itself. This is certainly nothing new but so much new technology and scientific advancement is giving the illusion that this can happen. We live in a time when misconceived human rights surpass the glory of God. We live in a time in which humanity thinks it can create itself into the person it wants to be, no matter how God has put us into this world. There is the illusion that it is no longer God who creates us and gives us the unique identity which is ours from Him.
As God recedes more and more into the background, the glory of His love also is not able to be grasped as He so much wants it to be. Other things replace the fundamental relationship with God for which we were created and in which we find our joy and peace. In a world where God has receded, achievement, political advancement, false values, unfounded rights and transitory success take precedence over a personal relationship with God. Only when the world is able to accept the glory of God as infinite love and to enter into that love in a personal relationship will real peace come.
Not everyone will accept this message. That has always been reality. That is why the angels announce “Peace to those on whom God's favor rests.” God's favor rests upon all people – no matter what their backgrounds, limitations or feelings may be. However, not all are willing to accept the favor of God and this is where a lack of peace will always be present.
Even the celebration of Christmas has cast the glory of God into the background. We live in a time when it is more appropriate to say "Happy Holidays" and not "Merry Christmas," not because of a lack of sensitivity to other faiths, but because of a lack of sensitivity to faith at all. Last year, in his Christmas homily, Pope Francis rightly noted that "Christmas becomes a holiday with ourselves at the center rather than Jesus; when the lights of shop windows push the light of God into the shadows; when we are enthused about gifts but indifferent to our neighbors in need. This worldliness has kidnapped Christmas; we need to liberate it!"
As we go to the crib this Christmas, let us do so hearing the greeting of the angels in a personal way to each and every one of us. First, “Glory to God in the highest!” We all need to recognize God as the center of our lives – not a God of power who delights in the rulers and kings of this world – but a God of love who delights in a humble, helpless, newly born child which He has become. As Pope Francis spoke last Christmas, “The Gospel reveals a paradox. It speaks of the emperor, the governor, the high and mighty of the times, yet God does not make Himself present there. He appears not in the splendor of a royal palace, but in the poverty of a stable, not in pomp and show but in simplicity of life; not in power but in astonishing smallness. In order to meet Him, we need to go where He is. We need to slow down, to humble ourselves, to make ourselves small. The newborn child challenges us.
Only by letting ourselves be touched by the infinite love of God and entering into a personal relationship with Him, who never abandons us, will we celebrate the true spirit of Christmas and always find true peace. We pray in a special way for all those so troubled and abandoned by our society today. As believers in the "Prince of Peace" may His peace which is the glory of His love be truly experienced as it can be.
A blessed Christmas to all! May we all find that peace which the Lord has come to give us! “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests.”
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
December 22, 2017