In a penultimate scene in Kevin Costner's underrated 2003 western, "Open Range," there is a lull in the shooting between the cattle baron with his henchmen and the free-range cowboys with the townspeople. With a 17-year-old boy in between them, bleeding from a previously inflicted wound, Annette Bening's character goes into the middle of the street shouting, "Stop it. Stop it right now." It is an act of extraordinary courage given that the bullets have been flying with deadly accuracy, and one that contains a very certain element of self-sacrifice.

Christmas will be upon us soon. Are you ready? I ask because it seems to me there are a lot of distractions: Decorating, cooking, office parties, social events, gift buying. Just about everyone you know is busy. But there is a difference between busy and ready. And I mean a different ready. I mean a ready that isn't just about checking items off the holiday to-do list. Are you ready for an entirely new vision of the world? Are you ready for the reign of the Prince of Peace who rules with gentle grace?

It might seem like just a quaint notion, a bit of nostalgia from Christmases past. In a world just itching for a fight, where name calling has become a standard and measuring my fact checking against your fact checking to prove you are an ignoramus, we have laid aside the dream of peace and replaced it with the trophy of "being right." And the blind still cannot see, the lame cannot walk, and the prisoners are still in captivity. Are you ready? Are you ready to live in Isaiah's vision where the lion lays down with the lamb? Are you ready for John's vision of light that cannot be overcome by darkness?

Religion is the language of spirituality, and all language is symbolic. Is it impossible to imagine that in a world as diverse and complex as ours that there might be many languages attempting to express the same truth that compassion is better than power? That life is better than death and that love is better than hate? Is it impossible to dream that all of us love our children and want their lives to be better than ours and that it is worth taking great and even self-sacrificial risks to accomplish that? Is it any more unlikely than an unarmed woman walking right into the crossfire shouting, "Stop it, stop it, right now?"

A couple of weeks ago I was chatting with a new acquaintance. I'm not sure how we got on the subject, but I commented to her that it might surprise her that when I started college nearly 40 years ago, I thought of majoring in environmental biology on my way to law school to change the world by defending ecological causes. Somehow, my course was radically changed and I majored in English literature on my way to seminary. She commented, "So you changed the world in a different way." I replied, "I'm not so sure, when people stop killing each other, maybe then I will imagine that we have changed the world."

Are you ready? Shalom. Salaam. Pax Vobiscum. Shanti. Peace be upon you.

Steve Hammer is the pastor at Esperanza Lutheran Church in Ahwatukee Foothills.

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