“How do you know?” “Well, I have a peace about it.”
“Are you going to do that?” “No, I just didn’t have peace.”
‘Peace’ in evangelical nomenclature generally describes some type of Christianized Ouija board or divining rod.
Advent reminds us that we’re robbing ourselves.
Any tourist who’s visited Hawaii knows the word ‘Aloha.’ We enthusiastically adopt it as our own, rolling it out for hello’s and goodbye’s, purchasing T-shirts emblazoned with it. Even more, we keep it up when we return to the mainland, feigning an air of surprise, “Oh, did I just say ‘Aloha?’ My bad, I meant to say ‘hello.’ If you’d been there you’d understand.”
But Aloha carries a richer meaning for those who live in Hawaii, especially for native Hawaiians. Aloha is more than a word and a greeting, more than a T-shirt. Aloha is untranslatable, but is best understood as expressing the essence of Hawaiian spirit. Aloha, for locals, is an experience rather than a word.
The ancient Hebrews had a word that is similarly untranslatable: Shalom. Shalom, like aloha, is still used in greetings and goodbyes in Israel today. Shalom, like aloha, is also more than a word–in many ways it carries a key essence of Israeli identity. We translate it as peace, but lose much in the translation.
Shalom was a central theme of the Torah and the rest of the ancient scriptures; a thread weaved through the entire tapestry of the Old Testament. Shalom was more than the absence of fighting or the cessation of a conflict. To say ‘shalom’ was to evoke longings for restoration, redemption, wholeness, wellness, prosperity, goodness, and, of course, peace.
Ancient rabbis understood Gen 3 to have painted a picture of shattered shalom. Eating the fruit had far greater consequences than introducing individual sin. It has desecrated what God declared ‘Good.’ It was the end of Shalom shared by God and humanity. It was the fracturing of shalom throughout all of humanity, both between people and within individuals. The death knell was rung for the shalom that had flourished between humanity and all of the created world.
In light of this, we misread the Bible when we read it as a manual on how to get to heaven. The nativity isn’t your ticket to punch along the way. The Bible is the story of everything God has done, is doing, and will do since the shattering of Shalom. It’s the story of the restoration of Shalom between God and ourselves, ourselves and each other, and ourselves and this earth where we live. We contort the angel’s proclamation of peace when we approach the nativity scene as the beginning of the story rather than the middle of the story.
Peace, or better yet Shalom, isn’t a vague, subjective tingling that we’ll feel if we just hold still enough. Shalom isn’t an emotional sensor embedded in our hearts that God uses to guide us like some sort of spiritual GPS. Shalom isn’t a state of being to pursue.
The gift of peace on earth was the beauty that rose from the ashes of Eden. We grievously diminish it and disenfranchise ourselves when we reduce peace to anything less that the onward march of the inbreaking rule of God. Peace, or shalom, is everywhere the kingdom of God is. Peace isn’t something we pursue, declare, gain or lose. Peace is the reality we experience as God brings the kingdom of heaven to earth.
Shalom, for locals, is the kingdom rather than a feeling.
This advent, may this be the peace of God that is with you, may this be the peace of God that guards your heart and mind.