“Lord, You will establish peace for us, for you have also done all our works for us.” Isaiah 26:12
The first snowfall sprinkles my world with magic. White flakes cover the dead earth and coat the barest of branches, making winter a wonderland. On dark morning walks, the moon reflects on this clean slate, creating an ethereal atmosphere. All noise is muffled by the snow, adding to the magic. Despite the briskness, I walk with more ease, with my shoulders relaxed and my countenance carefree. Even my thoughts seem less cluttered, as I breathe deeply of the cold air, and my mind opens to more possibilities. All that is dead, brown, and heavy now seems alive, beautiful, and peaceful.
Of the four concepts I will explore in my Advent blogs, I find peace the most difficult to sustain in my life. I often find myself caught up in the busyness of life, anxious about details and overwhelmed with uncertainties. The stress manifests itself not only in my body but also in my actions and responses towards others. Internally, I get knots in my neck and stomach, causing discomfort. Externally, I become snippy and demanding, creating a less than peaceful atmosphere in my home. I am not proud of this, and it is something that I am consciously trying to change.
Timothy Keller, in his online Advent devotional, asks readers to meditate on the terms to describe Christ in Isaiah 9. When talking about the Prince of Peace, he says “Prince of Shalom. Shalom is the Hebrew word that conveys absolute spiritual and physical flourishing.” This flourishing is antithetical to how I define peace as a place of inaction and lack of forward movement. How then is peace a place of growth?
Both in the Old and New Testaments, peace is synonymous with harmony. Being married to a musician, I have learned a little about harmony over the years. When a group sings in harmony, the individual different parts don’t sound so beautiful. But put together, something magical happens. It creates a fuller, richer sound that is more than the sum of its parts.
If peace is the same as harmony, the opposite would be conflict or disharmony, known musically as dissonance. This is not always unwanted, especially in a piece that is trying to convey a sense of urgency or chaos. But if you are trying to convey a sense of peace and beauty, adding the vocals of someone like me who goes off key will create an unwelcome dissonance (for more about my tone deafness, see “O Holy Night”). The one off-key person or one instrument disrupts the whole, leaving everyone slightly uncomfortable.
The Israelites anticipated the coming of the Messiah. They expected a powerful king like David, who they memorialized in their conversations and scriptures. This Messiah would restore the Hebrew people back to power. They felt validated when reading the prophecy in Isaiah 9:6, where he talked about “the mighty God” and, in the next verse, “the increase of His government”. They forgot that in these same two verses, peace is also recorded: “the prince of peace” and “of the increase of His government and peace, there will be no end.” Jesus came to bring a full and sustaining peace.
This peace is not the distorted view I have of inactivity. Instead, it is like the blanket of snow, covering a ground that seems dormant, but instead is busy beyond our purview. Snow provides the precipitation the earth needs for things to grow and to replenish our water supply. It contributes to soil fertility by trapping dissolved organic nitrogen and nitrates. Snow also protects our forests by insulating the ground and protecting roots in the bitter cold. As winter unravels, the warming temperatures and thawing snow allow for a season of miraculous growth.
There is nothing as precious as a baby sleeping. I watched in awe this past Thanksgiving as our family: parents, grandparents, and aunt and uncle, took turns holding a sleeping two-month-old. We all “oohed” and “aahed” over her sweet coos and sleepy stretches, beaming at this beautiful, precious baby girl lying peacefully in our arms.
I can only imagine the peaceful expressions of Mary and Joseph as they watched in awe while baby Jesus lay in the manger. Maybe, as they held him, counting his breaths, they remembered the past months of angelic visits, tough decisions to make, and the echo of rumors from friends and foes. But right now, all alone in a stable, they held in their arms the fulfillment of four millennia of prophecy. Their peaceful reminiscences were interrupted as a group of shepherds rushed into the stable. The shepherds, too, had a peaceful night interrupted by a host of angelic voices telling them of this baby born in this stable. How did Mary respond to this attention? The Bible records that “she kept all these things and pondered them in her heart”.
This attitude of Mary’s was peaceful, but not without action. The Bible records earlier that Mary sang a song about her savior. In Luke 1:52-53, she exclaims that he has “exalted the lowly, he has filled the hungry with good things.” Even though she didn’t understand how or when, she knew that this little baby came to fulfill all the prophecies and change her world. She didn’t fret or worry, instead, she did what she knew to do. She fed him, changed his diapers, played with him, taught him the basics of living, and helped him grow. She took care of him when he was sick, worried when he was missing in the temple, and encouraged him in his first miracle. She watched as he was taken away, saw him suffer on the cross, and was filled with his spirit after his ascension. By choosing peace, she continued with life and, eventually, it led to her being whole.
Jesus declared in his first message in the temple found in Luke 18:4, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me… he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, to set at liberty all those who are oppressed.” He has come so those who are broken, captive, or oppressed can experience his gift of peace. And in his peace, they will flourish and grow by experiencing healing, freedom, and liberty.
Why do I struggle with peace? Like the Hebrews looking for a savior who would rescue them from their Roman captivity, too often I decide the kind of God I want to rescue me. I have preconceived notions about how God should orchestrate my life. And when my plans don’t align with his, this creates a dissonance that is uncomfortable for me and those around me.
Just today, as I wrote this, I called my husband asking if he had received any information on a situation we desperately need resolved. With no news, I felt tension rising in my body, asking why God hadn’t performed my Christmas miracle. It seems like a minor thing for God to do. I stopped for a moment, reminded about Advent, and prayed for peace to flood my soul. Like Mary, I took a few minutes to meditate on the life of Jesus, declare his future miracles, and trust him. And with that prayer, my shoulders relaxed. I took a deep breath and continued with what I know to do. By resting in his peace, I can wholeheartedly bless others without anxiety and stress taking up mental space. I can trust that He is doing a work in my life that will flourish. And that is Shalom peace, a beautiful, harmonious melody with God leading.