This past Sunday I shared the Advent-themed call to worship. I thought it would be fun to share it here. This post is also a little longer, as some of the material was cut for the sake of time. Enjoy!
This is the second Sunday of Advent, the season leading up to the celebration of Jesus’ birth: Christmas. Last week we heard about Hope and Faith. This week focuses on the theme of Peace.
In the prophet Isaiah’s description of the Son to be born, we are told He will be the “Prince of Peace” and continues on to the hope of His government and the peace that will not end (9:6-7).
Fast-forward a few hundred years and Peace is promised on the night of Jesus’ birth. A group of shepherds, minding their sheep and their own business outside the town of Bethlehem, were visited by a glorious crowd of angels, who were “praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.’ ”
(Luke 2:13-14 ESV)
Common Concepts of Peace
There are many interpretations and uses of the word “peace”.
One of my favorites is the peace related to quiet. I love to get a little peace and quiet. This peace ties in with stillness, such as when Jesus stood and commanded a storm be still. Many of us would love some of this peace in our crazy word.
Perhaps our most immediate interpretation of peace is the absence of conflict or war. Fighting and strife come to an end. No more battle wounds or losses. We think of peace in the Middle East, in our neighborhoods, or in our families. Even beauty pageant contestants are categorized as looking for “world peace.”
At the time of Jesus’ birth the Mediterranean world enjoyed a relatively immense peace. The Pax Romana, or “Roman peace” was the result of Rome’s military and political dominance. It allowed for easy travel of great distances and the movement of letters around the empire. Mary & Joseph were able to be in Bethlehem at the time because of the peace and the census called for by a Roman governor.
But the Jewish idea of peace is more substantial than stillness or the absence of hostility. The word used by the angles has a counterpart in Hebrew you may be familiar with: shalom.
Shalom used to be the most common greeting and farewell for Jews. This is probably why we find it in the opening and closing of so many New Testament letters.
Have you heard the greeting, “Peace be with you”? Jesus spoke those words when He first appeared to the remaining Disciples after His resurrection.
The Jewish understanding of shalom is better explained as “wholeness” and it speaks about being complete, sound, healthy. Instead of looking at peace in this context as a fancy way of saying, “Hello,” consider it more of a wellness check: “How is your wellbeing?”
The Old Testament tells how a woman went to Elisha in a time of great distress in her life, and when she approached he asked if she was “all right” (2 Kings 4:26). He literally asked about her “shalom”.
The Prince of Peace offers “perfect peace”, perfect wholeness, to those who trust in Him (Isaiah 26:3). This parallels the promise spoken of by the angels to the shepherds of God’s wholeness for those who please Him.
During the Last Supper, Jesus told the Disciples that His peace is better than the world’s peace. In Him alone are we made complete and whole. It is this peace in wholeness that helps fulfill Jesus’ charge, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled.” This is how we take heart in how He has overcome the world that brings tribulations into our lives.
Pursuing Unlimited Wholeness
For most of us the promise of Peace can sound good at Christmastime, but we fail to see how it could possibly fit into our personal lives. Or, we wonder how long it will last if we are lucky enough to get a taste of it.
The absence of war and strife seem impossible. Any time of stillness and quiet in our lives feels like it is only the next work day, a phone call, a COVID variant, or a family member’s need away.
The birth of the Prince of Peace is the promise and possibility of wholeness. The peace which surpasses all understanding is a wholeness “so great we cannot understand it” (Philippians 4:7 NCV).
This Christmas season, don’t look only for a human understanding of peace. It may last for a short while but you will only find yourself tangled and frenzied all over again.
Pursue peace, as Peter encourages us. Jesus’ shalom peace. A wholeness and completeness only found in Him, but fully available to us. And, as the Message translates Isaiah’s prophecy, “there’ll be no limits to the wholeness he brings” (9:7).