Today, three days before Christmas, the world is in strife, and it is noisy.
Apart from the fact that many of us have recently lost loved ones, or have very ill friends or relatives, and even though many Americans are carrying heavy financial burdens, the plight of other populations around the world is equal cause for sadness.
Today, either war, social upheaval, economic woes or natural disasters are causing distress in practically every nation. Syria is engaged in a war that nobody is winning, an indication the conflict there will not cease any time soon. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled to Lebanon, most on foot, many with babies in their arms.
We Americans have known hard times, but few, if any, have been of this nature or magnitude.
The next hot spot for international news just may be Asia, once again. North Korea’s saber rattling is nothing new, but boy-ruler Kim Jong Un is now sending planes and ships to North Korea’s Yellow Sea boundary with South Korea. Having just finished a semester of teaching western civilization to non-English-speaking South Koreans, my heart (and theirs and my interpreter’s) is close to this issue. Whatever Kim is up to, the United States is committed to South Korea’s safety. We know with whom China would side.
Iran, of course, is still working on bombs, while Russia and China are getting cozier by the day. America is losing friends by the day.
Trotsky was right: “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.” Try as we might to live peaceably with all men, there are individuals or factions in every nation who are determined to control. The hubris of ambitious men, no matter how far away, pulls all of us away from our comfortable recliners or glitzy shopping malls to face headlines that make us uneasy.
On the home front, America is as ideologically divided as she has ever been. Right and Left, Red states and Blue states, millennials and seniors, Occupiers and Tea Partiers, and many other such tags mark our political discourse. Coarseness in our entertainment culture is nothing new either, but today it is indiscriminate and pervasive. Americans no longer blush at anything. Modesty has fled. Quiet dignity is passé.
The context in which all of this is occurring is noise. Americans, particularly, are addicted to noise. Even in many churches the “still, small voice” has been displaced by extra loud drums. Reverence is a forgotten word. We must have noise. Noise, so we think, will keep our minds off of the headlines, the evil and all of our pain.
But noise is exactly what we don’t need. Noise only hides, delays or makes us numb to that which we must eventually face. Silence we are absolutely afraid of. Give me a babbling, little screen to watch, even while I’m pumping gasoline. Give me music. Give me an iPhone. Just don’t force me to be alone with my own thoughts.
It was not a noisy world in which the first Christmas occurred. “Pax Romana” (Roman peace) circled the Mediterranean, including Palestine. But it was a false peace. It was peace at the point of the Roman spear. We can be sure that inwardly, our ancient world counterparts worried, struggled and hoped for a better world.
I suspect Joseph was worried about Mary and her unborn child as they trekked to Bethlehem, even though he was a man of deep faith. We know for certain that King Herod worried or he would not have decreed the death of all male infants. He knew of the prophecies about a child born to be a king, and like Nero, Bloody Mary, Charles I, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Castro and countless others, he sought to get rid of anyone who might displace him.
So yes, the world is as noisy and dangerous as ever, but inner peace is still possible. Secularists claim that Christmas is but a “universal spirit” that can be “felt,” no matter what one believes. Au contraire! Christmas is about an event, a world-changing one at that. That event stirred Joseph Mohr to write “Silent Night,” the most recorded song in music history. It also led slave trader John Newton, author of “Amazing Grace,” to leave the slave trade and tell about this event to everyone he met.
Today the event still inspires music and still turns people’s lives around. That’s why we can be joyful and still have a very Merry Christmas!
Roger Hines is a retired high school English teacher in Kennesaw.