One hundred years ago, November 11, 1918 marked the armistice ending The Great War. No one knew another, greater war was yet to come. It was only World War I, but we didn’t know. We hoped it was the war to end all wars. We said it was the war to make the world safe for democracy. It wasn’t. Instead, it introduced the horrors of modern warfare that would become greater horrors of which we have not yet seen the end. It introduced the world to the politics of totalitarian rule, set the stage for the rise of fascism, and ushered in the possibility of global annihilation, not by God’s hand but by ours. It prepared the way for the hot wars of the cold war that seldom ended in victory for anyone. We live now in a world of little wars, hoping to avoid a war to end all life.
The dawn of the 20th century had promised something different. Religious leaders believed the civilization of humanity was bringing us ever closer to a more godly state in which goodness would prevail and social justice would bring peace on earth. A lot of good came out of the Social Gospel movement. It pushed public policy toward the standards Jesus expressed in the Sermon on the Mount. It gave hope for a better life that would soon come to everyone. All of us have benefitted from it because it really did bring about changes in public policy. Its influence still echoes in today’s work through churches and people of faith. Nevertheless, WWI stripped it of its illusions about human perfectibility.
The third verse of the well known Christmas carol, “It came upon the midnight clear,” says it this way: “Yet with the woes of sin and strife the world has suffered long: beneath the heavenly hymn have rolled two thousand years of wrong; and waring human kind hears not the tidings which they bring; O hush the noise and cease your strife and hear the angels sing.”
Today would be a good day to be honest with each other, confessing that we have not loved God or our neighbor as we should; that we have sinned in thought, word and deed through what we have done and not done, said and not said, believed and not believed. It would be a good day to hush the noise and cease our strife, at least for a day. Perhaps we will hear the angels sing. Maybe it would be a good day to again take up the cause of ending wars in a world safe for democracy where each nation is free to decide for themselves what that means for them, and none imposes its will on another. In the words of Jesus, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” We Christians say we are the body of Christ at work in the world today, which means we are to both bless peacemakers and be peacemakers. It’s a good day to remember that.
Peace sometimes comes at a high price. Today would be a good day to honor the veterans who gave much that we might have another chance for a better life. They deserve all the honor we can give. Fly the flag. Put flowers on the graves of the fallen. Say a prayer for the living and the dead. Take some time to hush the noise, and cease the strife. Maybe you’ll hear the angels sing.