"And this shall be a sign unto you: You shall find the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger.
"And suddenly there was with the Angel a multitude of the heavenly army, praising God, and saying: Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace to men of good will."
Here the argument begins. Is it biblical to say, "Peace on earth and good will to men," which is inclusive but inexact? Or does that dilute and distort the meaning of "Peace on earth to men of good will," which is restrictive?
The former, while ecumenical, seems pacifist. Do we wish good will today to al-Qaida? And is not the chorus singing out peace on earth "to men of good will" at the first Christmas a "heavenly army"?
And is not the purpose of an army to destroy enemies -- in the case of the heavenly army, the army of the Devil?
"Peace on earth to men of good will" seems more consistent with the Sermon on the Mount, where the Lord says, "Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God."
Surely, Christ was not here calling down blessings on the legions that had brought a Roman peace to the known world by conquering all tribes and nations through the power of the sword.
Yet, Christ did not exclude Romans soldiers from the company of men of good will. Of the centurion who implored him to heal his servant from afar, as "I am not worthy that thou shouldst come under my roof," Christ said: "Amen, I say to you. I have not found such great faith in Israel."
The centurion's words have become immortal, as for centuries they have been repeated three times by the faithful before receiving communion at every Latin mass said on earth.
What the Bible seems to teach is that there are just causes worth fighting for and just men who fight in them, and "peace on earth" is not merely the absence of war, as "in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar," but the presence of peace with justice.
To his credit, President Obama reintroduced, in his address at Oslo on accepting the Nobel Prize for Peace, the Christian concept of a just war.
"(O)ver time, as codes of law sought to control violence within groups, so did philosophers and clerics and statesmen seek to regulate the destructive power of war. The concept of a 'just war' emerged, suggesting that war is justified only when certain conditions were met: if it is waged as a last resort or in self-defense; if the force used is proportional; and if, whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence."
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