As 2008 dawns in the midst of the Twelve Days of Christmas, how we long for peace: for shalom, that great Biblical word for the flourishing of each individual, each relationship, and the cosmos as a whole in harmony with God.
Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus as the one foretold to be “the Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6), the one who came to bring “shalom on earth,” as the angels declared to the shepherds (Luke 2:14). And it is only as we look to Jesus that we will have the peace he promised (John 14:27).
One doesn’t need to be a Christian, of course, to long for peace, to work for peace, and to enjoy seeing peace on earth–in part, here and there, for a while. And let’s acknowledge that we Christians are as capable of wreaking “non-peace” as anyone else.
The fundamental Christian hope, however, is of the “peaceable kingdom” to come, when Jesus returns to set things finally right. And the Christian joy is to experience something of that peace already in the present age of tumult and trouble.
So my kids are wondering, having spent the last week or so at home full-time with Professor Papa, why the theologian doesn’t radiate peace, why I don’t characteristically walk into the room as a soothing breeze of calm and delight, trailing clouds of quiet happiness in my wake.
That’s because the theologian forgets things he knows, and fails to practice what he preaches. And the most basic truth about peace is this: It doesn’t come from within, and it doesn’t come from without, either.
What I mean is that I am not intrinsically peaceful. I am, instead, a roiling soup of mixed motives, clarity and confusion, fear and confidence, good and bad. Sometimes the soup simmers down; sometimes it boils over. But “still waters”? Never.
Partly that’s because I myself am not peaceful, and partly that’s because my life never stays peaceful for long. So if I’m going to find peace, where shall I look?
To the Prince of Peace. The British writer Oswald Chambers has this to say:
“When we awaken to the facts of life, inner peace is impossible unless it is received from Jesus…from looking into his face and realizing his undisturbedness…. We get disturbed because we have not been considering him. When one confers with Jesus Christ the perplexity goes, because he has no perplexity” (My Utmost for His Highest, reading for August 26).
Of course, Jesus is sad about people’s pain and angry about people’s injuring each other. He is not unmoved by the world’s suffering.
But he is not surprised by any of it, nor is he wringing his hands in heaven, wondering what on earth to do about it all.
No, he is busy doing exactly what needs to be done, with steadfast determination. And he calls us to join with him in the same seriousness of purpose and the same sure hope of a proper outcome at the end of days.
Thus, as Chambers writes, I can enjoy “reflected peace,” as the moon enjoys light, as I turn to face Jesus in the midst of life’s struggles.
One stanza of the Christmas carol “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” ends, “Come, Desire of nations, come: fix in us thy humble home.”
I shall have the peace I long for, we all shall have the peace we desire–peace that lasts (not as the world gives, for that peace is pale and ephemeral by comparison)–when we open our hearts and homes, our selves and our communities, to the Prince of Shalom, the one who is its source and who longs to bring us fully into his domain.
There is much to be repaired in 2008, from broken economies to oppressive regimes to wasteful public services to corrupt leaders to stupid television to anemic churches to boring academia to painful families to widespread poverty to heartbreaking loneliness.
And guess what? We’re not going to fix it all–not by a long shot.
But we can fix some of it, improve some of it, and keep some bad stuff from happening. We can make some peace. And the Christian promise is that we can best make such peace with peaceful hearts if we will work with t