TO live for others - indeed for all mankind - is as radical a demand today, when the second millennium since Christ Jesus' coming is nearing its close, as it was almost 2,000 years ago when the Master Teacher taught his followers to rise above self, to love their neighbor in high and low places, and to prepare for universal salvation in the hearts and lives of all.
As the third millennium approaches, there is a profound need for individuals of whatever denomination or faith to pray with all sincerity and conviction, in a more global framework, for peace, harmony, and intelligent fraternity among earth's families and nations.
It was the opportunity of Christian Scientists to dwell on this theme this past weekend in an unprecedented two-hour teleconference - via six satellites relayed to nearly 150 cities in 25 countries around the globe. Members of other denominations volunteered to pray with us to share in the spiritual urgency for an expanded sense of individual mission and purpose.
There was much to say and hear. And no doubt each of the many thousands who attended was touched and contributed in his or her own way. But at base was a confidence in the power of righteous prayer to change what appears to be the world's intractable problems of conflict, hunger, and turmoil.
Change begins in the thought of individuals, with the care of their own families and reaching out to all mankind. The marvel of this Christmas season again is the reminder that the gift of universal salvation could begin with the birth of an infant, in a stable, in the minor town of Bethlehem outside Jerusalem, an event so humbly beautiful that it invoked its own choirs of angels to announce it.
If we hear no choirs of angels in our lives, is it perhaps because we have not fully enough accepted the humbling universal purpose to which we should dedicate our lives?
It takes courage to love broadly enough, to sell all that we have of our self-preoccupations, as Jesus told a would-be follower to do. Sometimes this means a willingness to sacrifice that of which we may humanly be most proud. The going can be rough, thankless, as the lives of moral and spiritual leaders from earliest times to today clearly show.
One cannot be naive about the persistence required. The mistrust that leads to cold and open war, the mismanagement and unwise customs that breed hunger, the feeling of time urgency that impels developing nations to industrialize posthaste and thereby compound environmental hazards - these are not material conditions in origin. They reflect the sum of collective thinking, which can be more resistant to change than the granite of what is taken to be matter.
Yet as this week's news relates in added detail, even the earth's crust, long taken as a figure for permanence, is now recognized to be changing, as the edges of old surface plates ''plunge'' - in the almost metaphoric, Biblical time frame of modern physics - back into the earth's molten core.
There are signs today of a fundamental rethinking of mankind's purposes and practices, of a willingness to brave the radical molten core of human conditions.
As noted elsewhere on this page, Bishop Tutu's award of the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in opposing apartheid in South Africa is but one extraordinary example of how an individual can invoke a moral force to benefit others. India's recent chemical disaster at Bhopal is prompting a review of industrial chemical production elsewhere. The global outcry against the latest terrorist hijacking of a Kuwaiti aircraft was followed by the hijackers' yielding to justice in Tehran.
In the interest of international relations, another video conference will occur later this week, when several thousand people in San Francisco and in Moscow will seek to erect a ''space bridge'' of better communications between East and West. Then in early January, officials of the United States and Soviet governments will meet face to face in Geneva in hopes of renewing direct talks on arms - surely an uncommon opportunity for steadfast prayerful support worldwide.
Taken together, there is evidence enough of renewed effort on many fronts to enlist individual inspiration, activity, argument, and prayer to mankind's collective progress. We hope all our readers will join us in helping speed this gathering spiritual and practical force.