Advent Devotions (Week 2): Peace and Shalom

Text: Isaiah 9:1-7, Luke 2:1-20

“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” —Isaiah 26:3

Christmas is a celebration of God’s faithfulness to His promises—namely the promise of a coming Messiah whose kingdom reign would change everything. Yes, everything! Yet our celebration is often overshadowed by the hustle and bustle of the season and the stress of making everything perfect. Though we sing songs about peace, we often spend the holiday season frantic, frazzled, and devoid of it.

As sure as anything else, God wants you to experience peace this Christmas. He doesn’t want you as panicky as a long-tailed kitty cat in a room full of rocking chairs. The key to living in that peace comes down to the aspect of your focus.

The Hebrew word for peace is shalom. This word occurs over 250 times in the Old Testament. Over the centuries, religious scholars have spilled barrels of ink reflecting on its association and complex meaning. Though our common western definition of peace is something akin to “the absence of conflict or war,” in Hebrew it means so much more. “Shalom” is taken from the root word shalam, which means, “to be safe in mind, body, or estate.” It speaks of completeness, fullness, or a type of wholeness that encourages you to live generously toward others. This is the biblical concept of peace that God promised His people in the looming days before that very first advent of Jesus Christ.

Throughout the Old Testament, God unfolds his redemptive plan for re-establishing His shalom on earth. Through the line of Abraham, God tells His people that they will bless all of humanity. He made “a covenant of peace” with them (Ezekiel 34:24-25) and promised to restore all things by sending a Savior through this lineage. This promised Messiah would be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). This was prophesied about Jesus more than 700 years before his birth.

When we read the Christmas story of Christ’s birth in Luke 2, we find a great multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:10-14). Christ appeared to usher in a new era of peace with God, and peace with others. Our sins had separated us from our God (Isaiah 59:2), but when Jesus died in our place on Calvary’s cross, he took the punishment those sins deserved (2 Corinthians 5:18-19)—affording us a forever shalom and an eternal peace with God (Romans 5:1).

Christ, the divine embodiment of Shalom, is the only thing that can bring this world true and lasting peace. The Bible says, “Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end” (Isaiah 9:7). I think by now we can all agree that human governments and man’s institutions are desperately inadequate to bring about real peace and reconciliation. We need divine help! Scripture tells us that only His peace can break down the walls of enmity and human divide created by our own dogmas, religions, politics, and racial or ethnic differences (Ephesians 2:15–16). God’s kingdom reign ushers in peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7). He wants you to live under the government of that peace.

To do that, take refuge in the words of Jesus: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). Focus your eyes and fix your heart on God’s promise: “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you” (Isaiah 26:3). Speak peace (shalom) into the lives of others, even over strangers during your Christmas shopping. I like to do this by praying the Aaronic blessing over people (Numbers 6:22–27), or quietly uttering the word “shalom” as I pass by someone. Be an active agent of peace, working with the Holy Spirit in restoring God’s shalom on earth (Matthew 5:9)—we never flesh out this principle more than when we are actively engaged in making peace with those whom we have had past offenses or conflict.

Let’s live in God’s peace, and extend that shalom to others all around us as we actively abide in Him this Christmas season.

PRAYER

Our prayer this advent week is an echo of a shalom-filled petition made by St. Francis of Assisi:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; Where there is injury, pardon; Where there is doubt, faith; Where there is despair, hope; Where there is darkness, light; and Where there is sadness, joy… Divine Master; Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. If you could sleep out under the stars anywhere in the world, where would you put down your pillow?
  2. What message did the angel tell the shepherds? (Luke 2:10, 12) How do you think God might translate that message directly toward your circumstances, fears, or worries today?
  3. What does it mean that Mary “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart”? What is required to transfer head knowledge about peace into real life experiences with peace?
  4. What is the responsibility of those who “discover” the good news about Jesus and his embodiment of peace?
  5. Where do you need to shift your focus so that you can live in the fullness of God’s shalom this Christmas season?

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