We are at the time of the mid-winter festival dating back to times before the Christian era. The celebration is illustrated by holly, ivy, mistletoe, snow, ice, robins etc. The western Christian church decided that this was a good time to celebrate the birth of Jesus, adding shepherds, wise men, sheep, camels, and donkeys to the winter scene. The fact that Jesus was born on Sunday March 1st 7BC is not of immense importance in itself. For many centuries we have enjoyed Christmas at this time of the year.
Jesus was born at a time of major civil strife and an insurrection of the Jewish people against their Roman overlords was imminent. It did not happen until 53 years later, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem in 71AD (or CE) and the dispersion of the Jewish people.
But despite all this, Christmas has in recent years become a time of peace and this must be a good thing. The unofficial Christmas truce at the trenches of the First World Ward was quite remarkable but unfortunately the truce was allowed to continue for only a few hours. The killing then resumed.
2014 has been a time of major civil, ethnic, sectarian, and religious conflict in many countries of the world, especially those of the middle east. Peace seems to be ever more distant.
This brings to my mind a poem that I learnt at my primary school, in 1953 when I was ten. I have always remembered it but only now have I realised its immense importance as a message of peace and “Good-will to all men”.
Abou ben Adhem was written by the English poet James Henry Leigh Hunt, who died in 1859. He based the poem on the story of the mystic Ibrahmin ibn Adam, who was born in 712 and who lived his life in Syria, This country more than any needs him now.
Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight in his room,
Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
An angel writing in a book of gold:—
Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the Presence in the room he said
"What writest thou?"—The vision raised its head,
And with a look made of all sweet accord,
Answered "The names of those who love the Lord."
"And is mine one?" said Abou. "Nay, not so,"
Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low,
But cheerily still, and said "I pray thee, then,
Write me as one that loves his fellow men."
The angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
It came again with a great wakening light,
And showed the names whom love of God had blessed,
And lo! Ben Adhem's name led all the rest.
Greetings of peace to all.