In the early 70s Richard Nixon mocked war protesters by throwing up double peace signs and shaking his jowls like a bull dog with a bone. Our understanding of peace in those days (and now too?) was that peace is cessation of war. We define peace as an external state, a lack of conflict between people or nations. But many of us also use the word peace to express a state of personal calm. Those definitions are true to a certain extent. But they are small, incomplete. Peace, shalom, especially as Jesus gave it, is much more than that. What is peace? Shalom stands strong in the fire of life.
Peace Is Bigger on the Inside than the Outside
Like our previous Word of Advent, love, peace is suffused with more truth, meaning, and potential than we fathom. As an idea peace resembles the tiny stable in the final days of Narnia in C. S. Lewis’ novel The Last Battle:
“Yes,” said the Lord Digory [of the small, wooden stable]. “Its inside is bigger than its outside.”
“Yes,” said Queen Lucy. “In our world too, a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.”
The angels proclaimed the birth of the Prince of Peace born into a small stable and inside an even smaller baby. Later, as you know, this Prince of Peace then rose bigger than death and promised to give us his peace not defined by peace signs, world powers, or calming drugs or meditation practices. Jesus’ peace stands strong while the war rages, while the inner turmoil roils. A peace that ignites inside of us and emanates into a world that contains little peace.
And as we look inside the stable, we see the fathomless truth about peace, especially if we use the Hebrew word shalom to deepen our understanding.
Shalom Promises Wholeness
Many of us struggle with trauma, woundedness, and self-doubt or self-hate. Following Jesus around the desert we see he healed trauma and wounds, touching the untouchable, giving the nameless names. This was Jesus making them whole, Jesus bringing shalom.
Surrounding each of these people was also a vast gulf separating them from God, their Creator. Their physical, spiritual, and emotional brokenness stemmed from not being whole with God. Jesus did not just stitch up their wounds, provide medicines, memes, and encouraging words. He healed the gaping tear in the universe between us and God. This is peace, shalom!
This wholeness is not instantaneous, however. It takes a life to believe in and experience. Even when I’ve thought myself over something or healed, I soon learn the Master physician is still tenderly working on my heart and wounds. This in itself brings new peace. But it is a lifetime process.
Shalom Provides a Way to Live
When Jesus said he was the way, he did not merely mean he is a stairway to heaven. He meant he is the way to live in this often violent, unjust, unfair life. When we see him before his accusers, he never defends himself, though surely as the Son of Man he could have called down some serious peacemakers. Instead he kept silent, at peace with a coming torturous death. When we face our accusers (including ourselves), Jesus promises not to obliterate the trouble but stand with us in it and then to redeem it. Thus we need not search for illusive, abstract peace but simply take his hand.
Shalom Gives us that Non Anxious Presence
It was slated to be a conflict resolution meeting. You know the kind where a supposed neutral mediator lets both sides air their hurts and grievances. I had no peace about the meeting because I knew I was the only conflict that would be resolved. I had been blamed, shamed, and threatened even by the neutral mediator. The real goal was not resolution but one person to walk away vindicated and the other defeated. I knew my predestined role: defeat. I was going to lose my job.
Before the meeting God brought to mind Jesus words of peace: “My peace I give you. But not as the world gives.” I will be there with you. Even if no one else notices. And I will give you my peace. When you feel the heat, look to me, I heard in my imagination.
In the meeting room, I sat and then chose an empty chair for Jesus to sit in. When the beating commenced and I felt like giving in or fighting back, I looked at that empty chair and imagined Jesus flashing me the peace sign on his wounded hands. I know it sounds ridiculous, maybe undignified. But it gave me peace and courage. And after all, Jesus was really there, though maybe not as I imagined him. But more so!
Then I would sit up straight knowing I was loved by God and nothing they could say would steal that truth away. I never defended myself, never counter attacked, but also never let their words wound me. They were confused and confounded by my lack of self-defense. I walked out filled with and emanating shalom, despite that I knew it was only a matter of time. Two weeks later I was asked to resign.
I cried, I hurt, I wished, I learned, I repented. But I never lost that peace Jesus had passed to me. I still own it.
What is peace? Shalom is a Person who stands strong with us in the midst of fire. This Advent as we sing the songs of peace, let their deeper meaning fill you.
I’ve also written a poem What Is Peace? to give this truth another chance at reaching your heart.
Peace stands for more
than wistful absence
Of conflict and war.
It’s a stone spire,
Tall tower and strong,
Midst furious fire.
Peace rose from death’s teeth,
Furnace blaze quenched,
Worst nightmare in defeat.
Fear not, I’m with you,
Peace speaks to our hearts,
Given whole and true.
Also, read Words Wield the Power to Create and Destroy our Lives, Words of Advent: What Is Love? Love is a Name, and Advent Psalm: A Song of True Loveto dig deeper into what God offers us with his love and peace this Advent.