Growing up, there was always a part of the mass in which the priest would offer us peace then we would shake hands with those around us and say, “Peace be with you…and also with you.” I remember looking forward to this portion of the mass because it meant I was permitted to turn around and see who was sitting behind us or who snuck in late and was sitting in the back pews. Since we almost always sat in the first pew, this gave my inquisitive mind and restless body some satisfaction. However, I never truly understood what it meant to wish someone peace.
As we enter the second week of Advent, peace will be a topic of sermons, conversations, and thoughts. I started thinking…Why is Jesus identified in the Old Testament and the New Testament as the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6; Luke 2)? What is peace?
In the Old Testament, the Israelites used the Hebrew word shalom for peace. The word shalom means ‘peace, wholeness, harmony, completeness, or tranquility.’ To this day, it is used as a way to greet someone in the Jewish culture. It is also one of the underlying principles of the Torah. Theologian, Cornelius Plantinga, describes the Old Testament concept of shalom as:
The webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight is what the Hebrew prophets call shalom. We call it peace but it means far more than mere peace of mind or a cease-fire between enemies. In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness and delight – a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be.
Isaiah prophesied how we will be made whole and find peace from our sins in Isaiah 9:2-7:
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; a light has dawned on those living in the land of darkness. You have enlarged the nation and not increased its joy. They rejoiced during the harvest and rejoice when dividing the spoils. For you have shattered their oppressive yoke and the rod on the shoulders, the staff of their oppressors, just as you did on the day of Midian. For every trampling boot of battle and the bloodied garments of war will be burned as fuel for the fire. For a child will be born for us, and the government will be on his shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. The dominion will be vast, and its prosperity will never end. He will reign on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish and sustain it with justice and righteousness from now and forever. The zeal of the Lord of Armies will accomplish this.
As we see, God was preparing the world in order to bring peace and wholeness between a rebellious, sinful people and Him. Ever since the very first sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3), we were cast into darkness that continued for hundreds of years. God did give people opportunities to repent and live a faithful life for Him (e.g., Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Jeremiah, Habakkuk, Malachi, etc.) but they refused to listen and follow the instructions being given by God through the prophets. In fulfillment of the ancient prophecies, God sent His only son, Jesus to be the Prince of Peace and serve as the intermediary for those who put their salvation in him.
But the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the city of David a Savior was born for you, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped tightly in cloth and lying in a manger.” Suddenly, there was a multitude of heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people He favors! ~Luke 2:10-14
In the New Testament, the Greek word eirene is used as the word peace. It means ‘rest and tranquility’. The apostle Paul commands us to “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:15).
I have battled anxiety most of my life. As a child and teenager, I was always in a ‘fight or flight’ state of inner turmoil. This manifested itself into having false idols of professional and financial success as an adult. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago when I was stopped in my tracks with anxiety attacks so bad I would be physically ill every day on my commute to work. I knew I needed to finally give up and learn how to rest in the arms of the Prince of Peace. Although I had been a Christian for a number of years, I wasn’t following Paul’s command to allow the peace of Jesus to rule my heart. It was only when I started to intentionally pray, journal, and study the Bible, that I was able to surrender and welcome the gift of peace Jesus gave us on the night of his birth.
For those of you who may be struggling with finding the peace God wants us to have through Jesus, I pray you to be able to leave your anxiety and worry at the foot of the cross. This is a week, write down your anxieties and worries and hand them over to God. Then, pray over each one. After you pray, cross it off the list knowing you can find peace through Jesus.
Shalom and Peace be with You.