For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. – Isaiah 9:6
As the Twentieth Century reaches the halfway mark of its final decade, talk of peace comes slowly and tentatively to the world. No one knows what the next months and year are going to bring to ancient enmities in Europe, the Middle East and the Far East, nor what dangers lie ahead. We only know that peace is our goal and our commandment.
Most of us would say it is about time. This century will be remembered as perhaps the bloodiest in the history of the world. In no other era has the whole world itself been involved in war – not once, but twice. The terms "genocide" and "ethnic cleansing" have become part of our vocabularies, and the weapons of destruction have become so ghastly that now whole entire cities and even countries are at total risk.
Which is why the message of Christ is so important to us now, and why the Christmas season this year is so poignant. If only the message of "Peace on earth, good will to men" which the angels proclaimed so long ago could really catch hold.
There are some encouraging signs. A study by Worldwatch last year said that global spending for peace has gone up sixfold in the past five years while military spending is dropping. Unfortunately, the world still spends 40 times as much to prepare for war than to promote peace, the study said.
And despite the deep reservations of many over sending soldiers to desperate Bosnia this year, there is considerable satisfaction that so many nations are uniting to send their best people to the effort, including many who not so long ago were enemies.
There may be a lesson in this. President Spencer W. Kimball, before he ever became an apostle, related a Christmas story to Primary children about World War I. He said: "One Christmas during the World War, when no-man's land between the trenches was white with snow, the troops in a certain `quiet sector' began to exchange holiday greetings by means of crudely painted signs. A few minutes later, men who spoke German and men who spoke English were climbing from their trenches without guns and meeting on neutral ground to shake hands and exchange souvenirs, unmindful of war . . . Friends they were, not enemies, this Christmas day." (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 419).
Then, after becoming an apostle, he returned to the theme, writing in a Christmas pamphlet that Christmas "transcends the individual, the family, the community, the nation; it approaches the universal, crosses borders, and touches many nations of the earth. Our caroling voices sing the sweet songs of Christmas reminiscent somewhat of the host of heavenly angelic voices in the long ago, praising God and saying: `Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.' ". (Teachings, p. 246.)
Christmas, indeed, is the one time of the year when peace seems to be taken seriously. Despite the commercialism of the season, it truly transcends not only national borders, but also the borders of time, feelings and minds. Look at the ritual and customs that surround Christmas. From Druid gatherers of mistletoe to St. Nicholas who lived in Russia, Christmas has accumulated legends and rituals from throughout the world. There's only one reason for such an amazing display of human goodness: the reason why Christmas is commemorated at all. If it did not have Christ at its center, it would long ago have vanished along with other ancient holidays.
As President David O. McKay said, "The Christmas spirit is the Christ spirit, that makes our hearts glow in brotherly love and friendship and prompts us to kind deeds of service." (Gospel Ideals, p. 551.)
President McKay also said in a general conference that peace will elude mankind until it recognizes the Savior. "Only to the extent that men desire peace and brotherhood can the world be made better," he said. "No peace even though temporarily obtained, will be permanent, whether to individuals or nations, unless it is built upon the solid foundation of eternal principles." (Conference Report, October 1964, p. 5.)
In the meantime, we can only hope that each small step towards peace will be successful. As members of the Church, our obligation from the Lord is clear: "Renounce war and proclaim peace," was the instruction given to Joseph Smith in Kirtland, Ohio. (D&C 98:16.) It still stands.