Make 1999 the year of peace and brotherhood

Christmas is long past. But whatever our personal religious commitments, now that the new year has dawned, the words of hope and peace of one religion still ring in our ears.
For nearly two months late last year, we heard the carols. In chimes and bells. From street carollers and orchestras. On radio and television.
We longed again for the dawning of peace in our personal lives and in the world. And we continued to hope for the day when war will end and selfishness cease.
Personally, I love all of the carols–and I’d be hard pressed to choose a favourite. But after Christmas, ’98, one carol in particular refused to leave my mind. Oh, I’d heard the song many times before but it wasn’t until last month that I really heard it.
“It came upon a midnight clear/That glorious song of old.”
I was feeling warm and cozy inside as we sang the wonderful song of peace and goodwill. One that originally was sung by “harps of gold.” Then came verse four, striking my consciousness like a sledge hammer.
“And you, beneath life’s crushing load, whose forms are bending low, who toil along the climbing way with painful steps and slow.”
I didn’t hear the rest of the verse. All I could think of was the year past. The bombs and the genocide. The earthquakes and the mud slides. The family violence, the floods, the corporate takeovers. The starvation and the ruthless dismissal of loyal employees.
I saw a thousand human beings bending low under loads too crushing to bear. And then another thousand, and another thousand.
Edmund Hamilton Sears was a Unitarian minister educated at Harvard Divinity School, and I understand the message he hoped to convey when he penned “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” in 1849.
What I don’t understand is how, after 150 years of singing those words, we haven’t figured out how to ease “life’s crushing load” for the human beings on this planet. Why is it that suffering seems to grow rather than diminish?
And why is it that so many causes of human suffering seem mindless and unnecessary?
Denuding the hillsides of the trees that could hold the mud slides back. Firing employees who have given their best years to an institution. Making refugees of those who have been tied to the land for generations. Venting anger in what should be the safest place on earth–the family.
Sometimes the agony of it all is just too much and the temptation is to respond with lethargy. We try to put it all out of our minds because there’s nothing we can do about it. And truthfully, from a mental health perspective, at times that kind of letting go is a necessity.
On the other hand, however, the planet is small and we all live on it together. And the suffering we ignore in another may one day be ours.
Walt Whitman once wrote, “All the men ever born are my brothers, and the women my sisters.” So why not choose a brother or a sister today. A person that you can help, and let the healing begin.
It will do us no good to lament the failures of the past 150 years. But the future is our responsibility. And if we choose to, together we can create a Christmas 150 years hence when “life’s crushing load” will have given way to peace and brotherhood.

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