This Advent season, my prayers are for peace.

Peace in our world. God’s good world is divided by controversy, rent by conflict, and torn by warfare. A bittersweet memories of my teenage years is watching USO-sponsored “Bob Hope Specials” performed before American troops in Vietnam. I have never heard more poignantly the words of “I’ll be Home for Christmas” than when I heard them against the background noise of falling bombs and screaming mortar shells.

This Christmas, as has been true for nearly a decade, we have sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, celebrating Christmas in harm’s way in Iraq and Afghanistan. I know, as do you, that the issues which surround our ongoing military presence in that part of the world are vexingly complex. But here is a simple, difficult truth: the Prince of Peace, for whom Isaiah yearned and of whom the angels sang, wills for war to end.

Jesus intends to reconcile what is divided and to heal what is broken, not just in war zones, but also in our communities, schools, and workplaces. We spend far too much energy on maintaining our differences and invest too little in understanding our common hopes and dreams. Let’s hear again the good news at the center of Christmas: “Peace on earth, goodwill to all.”

Peace in our families. We have such high expectations that the holidays will be times of warm and cozy togetherness—times when we can tell and hear cherished family stories, see the world’s magic through the eyes of children, savor long meals around the table, and share love and laughter in the exchange of gifts. So often, those expectations are dashed by pressure, stress, and misunderstanding. In a way, those dashed expectations are intensifications of long-simmering family issues: our relationships with one another are time-starved, overloaded with competing demands, and made more difficult by broken communication. I am praying for peace in our families, the kind of peace that enables our homes to be havens of renewal and love.

Peace with God. The kind of peace we yearn for in our world and our homes grows out of peace with God. Some of us lack peace because, in ways difficult for us to acknowledge, we fear that God is “against” us instead of “for” us. Maybe we are shadowed by guilt, or we are shouldering a heavy burden of trouble, or we are carrying a sense of shame. Jesus is God’s flesh-and-blood demonstration that our sins are forgiven our burdens are shared, and our shame is lifted from our backs.

These words, from the Book of Common Prayer, express my longing for peace:

Eternal God, in whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn but the sword of righteousness and no strength known but the strength of love: So mightily spread abroad your Spirit, that all peoples may be gathered under the banner of the Prince of Peace, as children of one God, to whom be dominion and glory, now and forever. Amen