OK, so I’m a week behind unpacking the symbolism of the advent candles, but I’m working on God’s time and there was something more pressing I felt like I needed to post before I started into advent. So the second advent candle symbolizes–you guessed it–peace. Hundreds of years before Jesus’ invasion into the darkness of this world, Isaiah prophesied about Him in this way:
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.Isaiah 9:6 (NIV, emphasis added)
This notion of peace, and of Jesus being the Prince of Peace, may seem straightforward, but maybe also a little bit out of place in today’s world, so I thought it would be worth diving into it a little deeper.
To begin with, it may be hard for us who speak English to remember that the Bible was not originally written in our mother tongue (after all, don’t God and Jesus speak like King James??). The First (Old) Testament was, of course, originally spoken and then written in Hebrew. The word for peace in Hebrew is shalom, a word we have undoubtedly heard. The nuances of shalom, though, run much deeper than the way we usually think of peace, which is generally and basically interpreted as the absence of war, or at least a freedom from being disturbed.
Is that what we are experiencing today? In our country? In the world? Or even at the individual level–do you feel at peace?
I suspect I know the answer to all of these questions.
Or what are we to make of Jesus being referred to as the Prince of Peace? Look at what Jesus says about himself relative to peace:
“Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”Jesus, in Luke 12:51-53
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn“ ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’”Jesus, in Matthew 10:34-36
This all seems pretty confusing. What I have found helpful in grappling with all this is to think back to the nuances of shalom. More than just an absence of conflict, it refers to wholeness or completeness. It hints at the way God meant for things to be, with our lives interwoven and interconnected with God and creation, everything working together for good.
Last week, I introduced the comparison of Christmas to an invasion story. This makes me think back to another famous invasion–D-Day (June 6, 1944), when the Allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy to try to gain a foothold on Hitler’s “Fortress Europe”. It was such a massive and dangerous undertaking that its success was far from guaranteed. However, once it did succeed, an Allied victory in Europe was almost a foregone conclusion. Nevertheless, it took almost a year before Germany surrendered. And that time between invasion and V-E Day was dark and bloody. Nevertheless, at the end of it all, peace prevailed.
Perhaps we find ourselves in a similar state, in the time between invasion (Christ’s birth) and victory, when Jesus will come back to set all things right. Setting all things right sounds a lot like a return to shalom, the way it was in Eden before the fall, when Adam and Eve had God as their best friend.
So even though Jesus doesn’t seem to be focused on bringing peace to the world as we know it in the way we would think of it–putting an end to wars once and for all–with a bigger picture view, we can probably see that God has a plan for peace to prevail, when Jesus returns to usher in a New Heaven and a New Earth.
Is that it then? We have to wait for Jesus’ Second Coming to experience shalom?
No, not at all.
This is where it gets very cool, but also very hard for non-believers to understand. Even though Jesus never promised to give us an absence of conflict (peace) in this life, He did–and still does–offer us wholeness (shalom)! How is this possible? Through continuous prayer–in other words, by conversation with God. By being in relationship with Him. He will give us what we need to be whole and complete, if we ask Him and let Him. This is the way the Apostle Paul describes it:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV, emphasis added)
In this light, I am pleased to wish you shalom, the peace of God that transcends all understanding, throughout the remainder of this Christmas season, into 2021, and beyond! I hope we are all able to give focused attention to the Prince of Shalom as we prepare to celebrate His birth!