Orange County church leaders are counting on the simple Christmas story message today to spiritually fortify those in their congregations whose loved ones stand at duty stations in the Persian Gulf.
“The wish: peace on earth and goodwill to men should actually be peace on earth to men of goodwill,” said the Rev. Chuck Smith, pastor of Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa. “The story of Christmas is one of hope. When times are dark is when you need that hope.”
Smith, whose Protestant church is one of the best attended in the nation, said Monday that his congregation will come expecting to hear the traditional Christmas message.
During a Christmas Eve service at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, the tense situation in the Middle East was at the center of the sermon by the Rev. Robert H. Schuller, nationally known televangelist.
“It is a Christmas when hundreds of thousands of our finest young men are in the gulf,” Schuller told the large gathering as he stood at a podium with a spectacular holiday scene of giant fir trees serving as a backdrop.
“We are praying that the legitimate goal of the United Nations can be met without American blood being spilled. But if anyone sees this as a battle just for oil, they are thinking shortsightedly.”
Schuller urged his congregation to pray and to “reconnect” their own lives to more spiritual pursuits. He also asked those in the audience to find “homes” for God in their lives.
“Christmastime means lots of things, but most of all it means being home,” he advised.
The Very Rev. Arthur Holquin, rector of Holy Family Cathedral in Orange, said the crisis in the Middle East has been very much on the minds of his parishioners and will be woven into the traditional Christmas message at Mass today.
“Certainly at this time of year, we are looking for peace,” Holquin said, adding that several people with relatives stationed in Saudi Arabia came to him after Mass on Sunday and asked that those service men and women be remembered Christmas Day.
“If my heart is hurting because a loved one is away, I couldn’t help but feel tense when everyone else is in a joyous mood,” Holquin said. “With the way society approaches the season, we try to mention the planning for Christmas and the deep spiritual and theological message.
“The message is of healing and of hope,” he said.
Holquin said that a parishioner came to him last week quite disturbed about the military buildup and asked what the parish could do.
He is now considering a plan to host 24-hour prayer vigils at the cathedral, dedicating the prayer to the Middle East crisis.
At Calvary Chapel, Smith said he is reserving more direct comments to his congregation about the U.S. military involvement for a service he holds every New Year’s Eve. At that time, Smith said, he will be reviewing the events of the year and his thoughts would be more appropriate.
“No one really wants war,” Smith said. “But sometimes war is necessary for peace. When we have men like Hitler who are determined to expand their boundaries, they have to be stopped.”