Peace on Earth, goodwill towards everyone.
That’s long been the unofficial greeting of the Christmas season, and it’s worth considering at this time each year how well we actually live up to our well wishes for the holidays. Are these just hollow words in the year 2022, that belie a society that too often fails to live up to such ideals?
America likes to hold itself up for its goodness, and certainly there is astonishing goodness in a great many Americans. We see it every day in the willingness of so many in our communities to step up and help others. When we meet another person, face-to-face, in need of some kind of assistance, the vast majority of us are more than willing to offer a hand.
Yet, somehow, a society comprised of individuals who will regularly go out of their way to help a friend or neighbor, doesn’t always make the connection that, on this very tiny planet lost in a vast universe, we are all neighbors, and we will only make the world a better place when we begin to act like it— individually, and collectively in the kind of society we choose to build.
It’s worth remembering at this time of year that Jesus, whose birth Christians celebrate, was himself a migrant and, eventually, a refugee when Mary and Joseph fled with their young child to Egypt to escape the threat of death from King Herod.
Which is, perhaps, why Jesus taught nothing but compassion for those in similar circumstances— because he, too, was once in need. As quoted in Matthew, “Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these by brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
Indeed, Jesus cursed to everlasting fire those who failed to show charity to strangers. “For I was hungry, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.”
We recognize that while some might claim otherwise, America is a secular nation, not a Christian one. We follow secular laws not religious ones, as is appropriate in a large and diverse country. Yet can any of us truly argue with the universal principle of the Golden Rule, espoused by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you?”
Just as Jesus faced the threat of violence in his time and relied on the kindness of others to escape persecution, hundreds of thousands of equally desperate people are fleeing to America each year under the threat of violence in nations to our south. These are desperate families for the most part, with parents and children who have faced severe trauma in their home countries. And are we currently treating them with the humanity that any of us deserves? It’s hard to argue that the answer to that question is yes.
And it isn’t just immigrants who face a system in America that is fundamentally inhumane. As a society, America allows far more injustice against its own people than almost any other advanced nation. America has 4.25 percent of the world’s population yet houses more than 20 percent of the world’s prison population. Other countries find alternatives to incarceration yet most enjoy lower crime rates than in the U.S.
In Isaiah, the Bible says that nations will be judged and that “they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.” Yet in Washington, the Congress, just last week, approved a military spending bill totaling $858 billion, the largest amount of resources ever spent by any nation on its military in world history. Peace on Earth? For a country that has been at war for most of the past half century, it’s difficult to view that as one of America’s priorities.
In a just and kind America, “wokeness” wouldn’t be an epithet for so many. The Oxford English dictionary defines wokeness as “the quality of being alert and concerned about social injustice and discrimination.” Yet we have states in America passing laws to actively punish teachers who try to educate students about such societal issues or teach an accurate and complete version of American history.
We could go on and on. While Americans as individuals are capable of so much good, there’s a disconnect between our individual actions and feelings and the society and governmental policies we’ve allowed in our names. At this time of year, especially, it is perhaps worthwhile to ask ourselves why.