This is the prayer of mortals and angels, since Luke 2:14, and long before. And a second prayer is like it. Good will towards all people. I confess that these two prayers voiced by the hosts of heaven in the Christmas gospel are still my prayers today.
However my prayers, like the love from which such prayers originate, are in this world always subject to our sinful nature. I wish it were not so. However, the evidence is too prominent not to notice.
Long ago, Reinhold Niebuhr, whose name I finally learned to spell correctly in seminary, identified this unnecessary but inevitable expression of our human nature. I have been searching for more than thirty-five years for evidence that we will someday learn to escape his keen insight into our propensity to follow the lower angels of our nature rather than the higher angels of our aspirations. Alas, I have found none.
Our political conversation is charged with vilification and harsh disrespect from both the left and right, and truth be told, from the middle if such a place even exists in our time. We seem unable to differ without disrespect and demonization.
In our personal lives, few, if indeed any, of us escape the trail of resentments, unresolved relationships, hard and harsh feelings, that are expressions of what Pat Conroy in Prince of Tides, calls "...our flawed, outrageous humanity." I wish his next words were true that "...in families there are no crimes beyond forgiveness." But those words, like the song of the angels, form a prayer which we do not always attain, to which I hope we continue to aspire.
In the United Methodist Church, my beloved denomination, we have a decades long deadlocked conversation about homosexuality and the full inclusion of persons in the ministry of the Church. People whom I respect differ with one another. That does not trouble me. What troubles me is that we seem increasingly unable or unwilling to create a spiritual space in which we love and forgive each other and in which we are willing to "agree to disagree."
FaceBook and email, through which many of us, like me, maintain a wide web of relationships are both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, we can bless, pray for, and support one another literally across the world. On the other hand, we can and do, from our phone, tablet, or keyboard slam out our unfiltered or partially filtered perspectives from the relative electronic isolation in which we sometimes live. Lord, have mercy.
So what are we to do? Each of us, really, has to wrestle, meditate and pray about our own personal version of truth in that regard. I can only say what I am doing in this Advent season, while my thoughts often turn to the song of the angels and the prayers of my heart. In truth, my activites seem small and mundane as I type them.
First, I am praying for "pax in terra," peace on earth. But I am actively praying for the more specific dimensions of that peace that are within my view. I am praying for peace, often fragile, among the members of my family. I am praying for peace and love within my Church and faith relationships. I am not participating in those things which do not lead to peace.
Second, I am determined to express and extend "good will to all." Even, and maybe especially, when my words or feelings might lead another way. I am praying for God's help to assume positive intentions on the part of others, and express those intentions in my own words and actions.
And I am reading and praying often these words sung by the multitude of the heavenly host at the birth of Jesus, and not giving up on their promise, even when all evidence points to the contrary.
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” (Luke 2:14, NRSV)