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Commentary: Christmas is still about children and peace

12/23/2003 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

A head-and-shoulders photograph of the Rev. R. Randy Day is available.

A UMNS Commentary By the Rev. R. Randy Day*

Advent and Christmas have been taken to a new depth for me this year, as I've contemplated the arrival of the Prince of Peace while visiting Hiroshima and Nagasaki in mid-December.

The message given and the faith called for in the New Testament are revolutionary and radical, and they begin with the birth of a child. A child always brings things into focus for me.

My journeys through the museums and peace parks in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were most powerful spiritual experiences. The films, still photos, and displays of various articles melted by the intense heat of the atomic bombs dropped in August 1945 are emotionally and intellectually profound.

Slowly and quietly walking through the museums with hundreds of young Japanese students made it less scientific, academic and political. Rather, it was very human - very "now," not "then." Were some of these students the grandchildren of the 200,000 people killed in Hiroshima on Aug. 6 and 132,000 people killed in Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945?

Violence and Christmas do not go together. Nuclear weapons, conventional weapons, land mines, handguns - none of these belongs in the Nativity. Yet, the world is saturated with them, and Christians own and use them.

Calling for peace and building up and maintaining arsenals do not go together in a New Testament world view. The Christ child born in Bethlehem never said you must destroy a village in order to save it, or invade a country in order to save it. Describing such acts of violence as "missions" does not fool the Creator.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki are not cities of doom today but cities of peace and life. While visiting Methodist-related schools and universities in the two cities, our delegation from the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries met visionary, committed faculty members, administrators, missionaries and students.

Seeing the door to a classroom open on the campus of a Nagasaki school, I stepped in and asked if we could say "hello." After a brief moment of astonishment at unannounced visitors, the high school students eagerly surrounded us, chatting, laughing, shaking hands, crowding in for a group photo. The energy level was high! Here is the hope for authentic peace, I thought.
Our mission, our Christmas message, is to have a world where our children can be safe, healthy, free spirits. To make this a reality in Liberia, Zimbabwe, North Korea, Kashmir, Haiti, the West Bank and Gaza is our challenge.

Shalom must not be confined to texts and resolutions but established and practiced throughout humanity. Building walls in the land of the Messiah's birth, allowing preventable diseases to kill millions of innocent people each year, and tolerating hunger on a planet that produces enough food for all are evidence of the monumental failures of our current policies and practices as a family of nations.

Viewing Iraq from Japan provided a new perspective. While I was in Japan, Saddam Hussein was captured. Placing the former dictator on trial for killing Kurds may give notice to others who abuse power.

Also during my trip, U.S. authorities in Iraq stopped the counting of civilian Iraqi casualties. Does an occupying army bring lasting peace? Did the occupying Roman army bring peace to the Palestine of Jesus' time?

The Japanese, among others, raise the uncomfortable challenge that the United States and Great Britain, while still searching for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, are using weapons containing depleted uranium shells in Iraq. The U.N. resolution also classifies these munitions as illegal weapons of mass destruction.

These are heavy questions for the season of joy and peace.

Christmas and Epiphany will provide special moments of deep, spiritual reflection for most of us - experiences that feed our souls to address the difficult questions of our age.

I had one of those spirit-filled moments after a worship service where I was invited to preach. I held a beautiful 3-month-old baby girl - a new life in Hiroshima, a city where so many children died from the first atomic bomb blast and many others died from leukemia and other radiation-related diseases for years thereafter. I silently prayed that this newly baptized child would grow up in a world of peace with justice.

Later that Sunday afternoon, I thought of her and my children and all the children of the world as I rang the Bell of Peace in Hiroshima. The inscription reads: "Step forward, and toll this bell for peace!" It is an invitation to peoples of all faiths and walks of life.

As a Christian, I tolled the bell and thanked God for the Prince of Peace and shalom for all of Creation. Let's all step forward and work for peace this Christmas and throughout the new year.

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*Day is the top staff executive of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.

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