Leading Article: Peace on Earth

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The Independent Online
AND YET there is still room, and time, for hope. Today is the Fourth Sunday of Advent, a season traditionally given over not just to looking forward to Christmas, but to celebrating the hope that it promises. Hope is more than a theological virtue, of course; it is a human instinct, too. For the secular and the religious alike, the season brings confidence that after the darkest and shortest days of the year, when "the world's sap is sunk", light and life will return. The year's midnight is past. We patch up friendships. We telephone distant relatives. We exchange greetings with strangers.

This year, it seems that we need this seasonal hope more than ever. It is not just in Baghdad that the call to prayer competes with the thud of explosions and the crackle of gunfire. In Bethlehem, the very birthplace of Christmas, there is still little sign of that lasting peace for which so many have worked so hard for so long. But there are still four days of Advent left. In many churches tomorrow a beautiful ancient antiphon will be recited in which Christians will look forward to the coming of light into their world with urgency, with yearning, but with confidence: "O Day-Spring, Brightness of light eternal, and Sun of Justice, come and enlighten them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death". For them, of course, it will be a prayer. For others - including, perhaps, all those tyrannised and terrified mothers and children who last week cowered in Iraqi air-raid shelters - it can surely at least be a hope.