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A Reflection on Christmas’ Bells and Bombs

“On earth peace,” said the heavenly hosts to the shepherds two millennia ago.
Associated Press reported that a terrorist bomb killed 35 people at St. Theresa Catholic Church in Madalla, Nigeria, on Christmas Day, maiming the celebratory birth of the prince of peace.

“There will never be peace until our demands are met,” said a spokesman for Boko Haram, a radical Islamic group. “We want all our brothers who have been incarcerated to be released; we want full implementation of the Sharia system and we want democracy and the constitution to be suspended.”

From the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Benedict XVI offered different words on Christmas Day: “May the Lord come to the aid of our world torn by so many conflicts, which even today stain the earth with blood.”

A series of bombs stained Baghdad before Christmas, killing some 60 people. Four security officers were killed on Christmas Day. Five more Iraqis were killed the next day, according to the New York Times.

“Our faithful are like everyone in Iraq – they have fear,” said Chaldean Bishop Shlemon Warduni, according to Agence France-Presse, about the unfolding violence in his country. “They feel there is no peace, no security, so they go where they can live in peace.”

At Church of Our Lady of Sacred Heart on Christmas, he urged worshippers to “pray for all of Iraq to become more quiet, more peaceful, to have more togetherness and dialogue with one another – Shiite, Sunni and Christian.”

The Sudan News Agency reported on the same day that the government had killed the rebel leader of Darfur’s Justice and Equality Movement.

That announcement collided with an announcement from South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir Mayadrit.

“May the joy and the birth of Christ bring us lots of joy as the nation and the peace of God which passes all understanding rest and abide with us all as we hope for a new year filled with enormous heavenly blessings,” he said.

His words came as 4,000 Syrian soldiers poured into a Damascus neighborhood. So said BBC News, based on a report from the Syrian opposition council.

Agence France-Presse said that Syrian Christians in Homs have “flocked” to a monastery built in the sixth century to escape a “city … gone mad” and to celebrate Christmas.

Meanwhile, Americans sighed with relief about the official end of the war in Iraq – without much awareness that the United States still maintains in Baghdad its largest embassy in the world with 16,000 people.

Some 5,000 of those are “private security contractors” (aka mercenaries). The annual cost for the embassy network is $3.5 billion, according to National Public Radio.

The Christmas bells may ring “peace on earth.” But the ringing is drowned out by Christmas bombs signaling “no peace on earth.”

If the message of Christmas is hope against hope, the impossible possibility, then let’s pray with Pope Benedict:

“May the prince of peace grant peace and stability to that land where he chose to come into the world and encourage the resumption of dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians. May he bring an end to the violence in Syria, where so much blood has already been shed. May he foster full reconciliation and stability in Iraq and Afghanistan. May he grant renewed vigor to all elements to society in the countries of North Africa and the Middle East that they strive to advance the common good. Together, let us ask God’s help for the people of the horn of Africa who suffer for hunger and food shortages aggravated at times by a persistent state of insecurity…”

After all, “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; the wrong shall fail, the right prevails.”

RobertParham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.