(Note: This post was originally written for my church's newsletter.)
“O come, o come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel…” -Traditional Advent Hymn
“[Jesus said,] Peace I leave with you. I do not give to you as the world gives.” -John 14:27
During Advent this year, our church will be exploring the idea of peace. It seems a fitting theme because in the build up to Christmas we often hear the message “Peace on Earth” in carols and cards echoing the message of the angels that first Christmas night. It is also a time of year where we seem to more acutely desire peace in our lives … and perhaps are more aware of where peace is lacking in our lives.
There are many things that can steal peace from our lives: worries about the state of the world; disappointment in ourselves; injustice to ourselves or a loved one. And many of us have likely seen/imagined/lived scenarios of doing everything we can to make sure Christmas is peaceful and perfect, only to have the day disappoint.
What is this peace we hunger for this time of year? In English, we typically equate peace with an absence of something, as in we see peace where there is an absence of movement or an absence of violence. From a Biblical perspective, though, peace is something else. In much of the Bible, peace is mentioned using the Hebrew word “shalom.” Shalom expresses not an absence, but a presence, because it indicates a sense of wholeness. If I were to wish “shalom” to another person, I would be saying, “May you be fed and sheltered; may you be loved and may you rest without fear or worry.”
If peace is about presence, then it makes sense that we proclaim peace in Advent and Christmas, which are about anticipating and celebrating the presence of Jesus, the Messiah. Jesus promised to come and “ransom” us from those things that steal peace from us—fear, selfishness, hopelessness—and so we experience peace in those places where we find the presence of the Christ.
Ultimately, the peace we proclaim in Advent is not based on everything in our lives being right or still, but in the hope that Jesus chose to be present among us and continues to draw near to us and our world. It is a peace that the world cannot give. As the angels told the shepherds where to find Jesus that first Christmas, may we share that peace by pointing towards the places where we find Christ.
“This is my kingdom come.” -Imagine Dragons, “Demons”