‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you, I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid.’
St John 14:27
Christmas is traditionally a time of joy and happiness as we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world. We decorate our homes and Christmas trees with bright shining lights to welcome the Prince of Peace. Yet this year our world has been overshadowed by the darkness of war in the very land where Jesus was born, and also in Ukraine, Sudan and so many other places. The news images we have witnessed from troubled places around the world have reminded us of just how fragile and precious peace really is. This Christmas we keep all those who are suffering in our thoughts and prayers.
In the Christmas story the angels announcing the birth of Jesus proclaimed, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward all people’. People of faith are not just called to be peacekeepers, but to be peacemakers – to be instruments of Christ’s peace; to pray and to work constantly for peace, healing and reconciliation between nations, communities, families, and individuals. Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God’. Peace is much more than simply the absence of war and fighting. Peace is about recognising that we are all made in the image of God, that we are all God’s children – to be respected, listened to, and cared for, even though we may have very different opinions, aspirations, and dreams.
In 2023 we marked twenty-five years since the historic Belfast/Good Friday Agreement was signed and delivered. This year, people from different parts of the community have been reflecting on this significant anniversary, often with mixed emotions. The signing of the Agreement was not the end of the journey to peace on this island but marked simply the first faltering steps down a very long road to a new, brighter, and shared future. Further progress along that road can be made if we show patience and a willingness to listen to one another when we differ and also recognise the need for greater understanding and reconciliation. The transformation that our peace process has helped to achieve on this island is talked about the world over and is often held up as an example of peacebuilding. Yet there is still much work to be done.
May we all continue to work for healing, reconciliation, mutual respect and understanding, as the basis of a lasting peace, here and in our troubled world. May the light of Christ shine in the darkness and may the peace of God which passes all understanding rest upon us all.
Eamon – Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh & John – Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh