Sunday, December 20, 2009

Lost in Translation

Hope Christmas Pagent

"Peace on earth and good will to men" may have worked in 1611 when the language of James the First of England was popular, but nevertheless, it's not quite accurate. The angelic host appearing to shepherds that night on the outskirts of Bethlehem actually said, "Peace on earth to men (understood as 'persons,' i.e. female and male) of good will." Lost in Translation expresses more than the title of a Bill Murray film.

It's one thing to bestow "good will" and another to be its possessor. What exactly does it mean, to be a person of good will? Well-intentioned seems kind of weak to me. It's hard to imagine the phrase reading, "Peace on earth to people with good intentions," especially since the road to hell is lined with them. It seems to me there should be something deeper, something stronger, something more demanding of our best, than merely to have meant well.

Paul McCartney said, "I still believe love is all you need. I don't know a better message than that." As much as I'm prone to agree, realistically it's hard enough sometimes to love the lovable, much less those who aren't. It might be better to begin with compassion and focus on what we do rather than how we feel.

If we look at it that way, then peace on earth to those determined to treat others as though they had value, takes on greater significance. Peace is the gift for those who refuse to remain uninvolved when witnessing suffering and injustice. Peace is granted to those who offer encouragement rather than criticism. Peace is the blessing enjoyed by those who would be peacemakers.

Good will should be more than a passing phrase spoken by children in a Christmas pageant. It ought to inform the ways we live, the ways we interact, the motives behind our behavior. It ought to be who we are, all the time, and not just in the closing days of December.

(Creative commons image by dgroth via Flickr)

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