I hate waiting.
Waiting is something that fills me with a feeling … that is not warm and fuzzy let’s say. Waiting hardly produces a sense of contentment, or peace.
The second Sunday of Advent we reflect on peace. Advent promises peace. Somehow we are expected to believe that waiting and our waiting and peace go together.
The book of Isaiah which we referred to last week (in reference to chapter 40, which Matthew, Mark and Luke all use in depicting John the Baptist as the beacon of hope’s imminent fulfillment) says this about the coming of a deliverer which the New Testament authors see ultimately fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah (9:2, 6):
The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned…
Jesus, says Matthew, is the fulfilment of this promise of a Prince of Peace. He will be given the name Prince of Peace (shar-shalom).
Loaded word. We usually translate it “peace”. But what is peace? We typically think of it as the absence of conflict. We most often think of it in terms of nations not trying to kill each other.
But shalom is more than that. It comes from the verb shalam which means to complete or make whole. To be “at peace” means to be completed, to be whole. This doesn’t mean free from conflict. When Paul speaks to the Philippians of the peace of God which surpasses understanding (4:7) he does so with this idea of shalom in mind.
Nowhere does the NT suggest we will be without conflict. Nowhere does Jesus or the Apostles tell us our lives will be free of violence, tension, conflict. Nowhere are we promised nothing bad will happen to you. In fact the opposite appears to be the case. If you boldly profess to belong to the Lord Jesus, chances are things will happen to you which will not be pleasant. In this world, you will have trouble, Jesus told his disciples (John 16:33). And Jesus tells us trouble is coming so that we might have peace when the trouble comes. Sometimes I wish things like that weren’t in Scripture. I doesn’t make sense.
But we are promised we can experience shalom. Completeness, wholeness is ours. The peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. This incomprehensible sense of God making us feel at peace with our situation will reign in hearts if we cling to the hope we have in Jesus Christ, and faithfully pursue him.
We will likely never see this world experience a time free of violence and hatred and anger and bitterness and death. One statistic proposed suggests that in the entirety of recorded history (about 5600 hundred years) less than 300 years have been without a war. But Jesus has fulfilled all things. He reigns in our hearts and minds and will one day defeat all other enemies and then, all creation will experience Shalom. Three times in the OT we are promised that God would bring about a day when all weapons are turned into gardening tools (Isa. 2:4, Joel 3:10, Mic. 4:3). But it will be when God does it. Until then we have shalom through him. Though we walk in darkness, we have been given a great light. Though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death… he is with us.
You see, peace does not come from stuff or circumstances. Self help gurus will tell you that you can feel complete through contentment with yourself and all sorts of nonsense and hokum about self-actualization or something like that. Peace comes in and through Christ and in Christ alone. We were made in God’s image, our design is to reflect God’s character and live in community with God and with creation. Shalom comes from God through Christ who is Prince of Peace, because he restores us and reconciles us to God that we might catch a glimpse of his glory.
He gives that peace to us, in spite of circumstances. In the midst of grief and sadness, Christ freely gives his peace. That’s why Paul can boldly say “rejoice in the Lord always”. I hate that sentence. Some days I don’t want to rejoice in the Lord. Some days I just want to wallow and be pitied. But Christ has given his peace, and has called us to allow him and his love, not our circumstances to dictate our posture towards God. Rejoice in the Lord.
You may hate your circumstances, but he is with you. Paul himself experienced a time of torment. It’s not clear exactly what’s happening, but Paul speaks of a “thorn in the flesh”- a spiritual torment- which he pleads with God to take away. But God says “my grace is sufficient for you. In your weakness my strength with perfect you.” So Paul says he can rejoice in spite of hardships and pain and grief, because Christ’s power lives in him. When I am weak, then I am strong. When the troubles drive you to the arms of God you find shalom.
So during this Christmas season when we talk of peace on Earth and goodwill to men, remember that it is because the Prince of Peace has come that peace is possible. Peace looks to Christ, and recognizes that he is Lord of all and comes to those who walk in darkness that they might have a great light.