" ... and on Earth, peace, good will toward men!" -- Luke 2:14
That awesome proclamation, according to the Bible, was how a multitude of the heavenly host accented Jesus' birth announcement, which had just been delivered by an angel.
The site where it occurred was a perfect backdrop for such a divine message, as it, too, added emphasis to the meaning of those words. What could have been a more serene scene than a starlit countryside where shepherds, armed only with their staffs, were tending their flocks?
And on earth, peace.
It's a beautiful thought. Yet for 2,000 years that prophecy has not been fulfilled. Peace has been a rare commodity on our tiny planet, just as it was before that blessed event.
Sure, many through their faiths have found some form of inner peace despite all the troubles around them. But when has there ever been a time during human habitation when Earth was at peace -- free of conflict, armed combat between tribes and nations or a maniacal ruler bent on carrying out his personal genocidal missions?
Even in that part of the world we call the Holy Land there has been unrest for centuries and, despite numerous attempts, no peace has been found.
Today, millions of people are caught in the crossfire of war, including many children.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue, with the deaths of innocent civilians outnumbering those of combatants on most days. The almost daily bombings in neighborhoods and city centers have ravaged these ancient and culturally rich lands.
In Syria, more than 100,000 people have been killed in a bloody civil war that has forced more than 2 million to flee that nation, leaving 4 million others displaced within their homeland. The saddest thing of all in remembering the Child in the manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes, is that in Syria more than 11,000 of those slain have been children.
That country, as several journalists in recent days have explained, is literally exterminating its future.
Good will toward men?
Just two years ago, the people of South Sudan thought peace had finally arrived after years of brutal attacks by their neighbors to the north.
But now, fueled by a power struggle, greed and intertribal bigotry, an outbreak of violence between government and rebel militia has disrupted this new democracy and thousands have fled their homes seeking refuge, many holing up in UN camps.
In the nearby Central African Republic, a coup to overthrow the government last March has resulted in Muslim versus Christian conflict that has overtones of genocide.
There is continued unrest in countries like Egypt and Libya, with growing tension in Iran, Ukraine and Tunisia. Of course, there are people living under repressive governments all over the globe -- all hoping for just a little peace in their troubled lives.
And in this country, the "land of the free," the racial and political divides grow wider, tolerance is a dirty word and violence has become part of our culture. We've become a society where guns are welcomed in our homes like the proverbial frozen snake, and then we are shocked when the serpent wakes and bites us.
We, like those in nations involved in bloody wars, are burying too many of our children who have fallen victim to too many crazy, brutal acts. Mourning is almost a daily ritual.
With all the turmoil in the world, it is easy to feel helpless, totally inadequate to affect change for the better.
The one thing we can do is to commit ourselves to treating our fellow human beings better: to regard everyone, regardless of race, religion or nationality, as brothers and sisters.
All the while, we must continue to pray for that ever-elusive thing called peace.
(Bob Ray Sanders is a columnist of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.)