Are you struggling singing Christmas carols right now? Do wishes for peace feel flat and out of touch? How do we celebrate this season when there are collapses of government, famines and flooding, wars and terrorism and genocide, persecution, a continued refugee crisis, systemic oppression, and more all around the world? How do we set up happy little manger scenes when Bethlehem itself set up a manger scene on rubble?
The prophet Isaiah, about 700 years before Jesus was born, declared, “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. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.” (Isaiah 9:6-7 NIV)
Isaiah lived in a time of intense suffering with war and instability and destruction. He would have known what it was like to long for peace. In Hebrew, the word for peace is shalom. It holds so much more meaning than the English language gives. Shalom holds a sense of completeness, wholeness; it is a communal experience of harmony, safety, health, security, prosperity; it is something one experiences within, with others, with God, and in eternity.
The Prince of Peace did come. And He declared, “I leave you now with my great peace. It is my gift to you. It is not the kind of peace the world gives. Do not let the troubles of this world fill you with fear and make your hearts fall to the ground, and do not let fear hold you back.” (John 14:27 FNV)
Jesus proclaimed peace before he went to the cross. He spoke of peace being with the disciples, before they were to see him suffer an unimaginable death. Peace is possible even when all feels too heavy and too much and too uncertain.
In his memoir about the Montgomery bus boycott, Stride Toward Freedom, which was published in 1958, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.”
Peace isn’t just something that happens naturally. It takes work. It’s not just the absence of conflict and war and injustice. It’s so much more. It’s subtracting those and then adding restoration, reconciliation, redemption.
As bridge builders, we are people of peace. We are co-laborers with God in bringing about shalom. The world is weary. And even still, we can rejoice because the Prince of Peace has come. The Prince of Peace is with us. The Prince of Peace will come again.
Shalom, bridge builders. May God complete in you all He has started. May He use us to be instruments of true peace in this time. And may hold onto the truth that He will heal, He will make all sad things come untrue, He will wipe every tear. His gospel is peace, and all He has said will come to pass.