Discovering Spiritual Truths & Celebrating God's Grace in the Every Day Happenings of Life.
Yesterday, during our Advent Luncheon gathering, we discussed the Advent concept and promise of peace. Like any past Miss America contestant, we all would love to see “world peace” achieved in our lifetime. It’s the perfect answer for any wannabe politician or philosophical savant. It fixes everything. Who wouldn’t want to give peace a chance? Tis also the season for songs to yearn for “peace on earth” and yet we see just the opposite flood the daily new cycles. Wars. Violence. Hatred. Judgement. The work of Satan, the rattler of peace, is on full, heartbreaking display. As we often understand it, peace is certainly desirable, but it is also very unattainable. Dictionary.com defines peace as the “non-warring condition of a nation, group of nations, or the world.” More than detailing what it is, it speaks to what it is not. The problem with regulating peace to a secular definition of only the absence of war or conflict, is that we don’t come close enough to what God’s intention for peace is. God offers His people a peace that is absolutely available here and now—a “peace that surpasses all human understanding and will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (cf. Phil. 4)
The word PEACE is common in most languages. People can talk about peace treaties or times of peace; it universally means the absence of war. In the Bible, the word peace can refer to the absence of conflict; but it also points to the presence of something better in its place. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for peace is shalom. The most basic meaning of shalom is complete or whole. The word can refer to a stone that has a perfect whole shape with no cracks. It can also refer to a completed stone wall that has no gaps and no missing bricks. Shalom refers to something that’s complex with lots of pieces, but that is in a state of completeness, wholeness. Think of Job who says his tents are in a state of shalom because he counted his flock, and no animals are missing. Shalom can also refer to a person’s well-being. Like when David visited his brothers on the battlefield, he asked about their shalom. The core idea is that life is complex—full of moving parts and relationships and situations—and when any of these are out of alignment or missing, your shalom breaks down. Life is no longer whole. Peace is absent. It needs to be restored. But how does this happen?
Do you remember the song “Let there be Peace on Earth?” I don’t recall who originally wrote it, but it has been covered by many artists. The repeated verse says “Let there be peace on earth… And let it begin with me.” Although I can appreciate the sentiment behind the song, it also completely misses the mark. Indeed, we should all strive to live peacefully with one another. The Apostle Paul tells us this very thing. It is also the very force behind Jesus’ words to “love your neighbor as yourself.” However, if “peace on earth” in any capacity is up to me, we’re all in trouble! The same is true for any one of us. We may have moments where we work towards peace, but our own sinfulness and brokenness will eventually limit the extent to which peace can overflow into this world. Walking with each other in perfect harmony is not something that will ever happen if peace begins with me, or you, or anyone else. Peace on earth will never be fully realized when we look within ourselves—to governmental parties, motivational seminars, or worldly cliches.
That’s a hidden reality in the message of Christmas. Peace cannot permeate the world without an outside force. The inbreaking of God in human flesh is the answer to a world that is no longer whole, that needs to be put back together. Humans cannot establish or cultivate peace, only God can do that. Only God can restore. This is why Jesus’s birth in the New Testament was announced as the arrival of eirene (cf. Luke 2:14); in the New Testament the Greek word for peace is eirene. Jesus came to offer His peace to others like when He said to His followers, “My peace I give to you all” (cf. John 14:27). Advent peace is a worshipful recognition that Jesus has restored what was no longer whole, what was broken. And what is that? YOU! The peace that we are given as Christians does not hinge on the circumstances around us. It is not defined by what is lacking, but by what we have. We have Jesus! This peace is found in knowing that we are beloved children of God who have been completely restored and redeemed by our Savior. Our peace, this Advent and all year round, is found in knowing that our God who restored us through His cross, is always with us and still growing us towards wholeness. In this second week of Advent, we place ourselves in the posture of God’s people of the Old Testament, groaning for and excitedly awaiting their Messiah. We too eagerly await the (second) coming of the Prince of Peace.
“All you beneath your heavy load, by care and guilt bent low,
Who toil along a dreary way with painful steps and slow:
Look up, for golden is the hour, come swiftly on the wing,
The Prince was born to bring you peace; of Him the angels sing.” (LSB 366, stz. 3)
“God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.” (C.S. Lewis)
“The peace of God is first and foremost peace with God; it is the state of affairs in which God, instead of being against us, is for us. No account of God's peace which does not start here can do other than mislead.” (J.I. Packer)
Pastor Steve Vera