Scripture for Advent 2:
Isaiah 11.1–10; Psalm 72.1–7; Romans 15.4–13; Matthew 3.1–12
‘Give peace a chance,’ sang John Lennon. What is peace?
The Hebrew word which comes into English as ‘peace’ is Shalom, but this has a much broader meaning than the absence of conflict – whether between two nations, two families or two people. It has a connotation of completion, or wholeness – and a context of community. We find peace and become whole not only by beating swords into ploughshares, but by cooperating in the use of those ploughshares and sharing the resulting harvest.
Where does peace begin? Like charity, it begins at home – but both within the narrow idea of absence of conflict, or the broader idea of wholeness, it begins not only with us, but within us. Unless we are able to find peace internally, we will struggle to find, or be agents of peace externally.
John the Baptist came into first century Palestine uttering words about repentance, and with harsh invective directed towards religious officials that don’t seem exactly peaceful. Yet in his humility, and his willingness to speak truth prophetically, he shows us someone who has found inner peace by accepting a role as God’s agent, and who is willing to devote his energy to encourage others to do the same.
Our Advent road map (see Advent 1) includes:
- deepening our faith, which will help us to discern God’s purpose;
- focusing on finding truth, in which John the Baptist reminds us that it may at times come in strident words, and may not be popular;
- pastoral care for one another, which leads us towards collective wholeness and Shalom;
- and striving to deepen our relationships, finding unity to overcome divisiveness.
These guidelines can lead to hope and to peace, inwardly and outwardly.
John’s repentance insists on integrity between faith and living. So we are challenged to address ourselves, our own inner imperfections and flaws. Which brings us back to Shalom: the idea of peace as being a subset of being complete or whole. Life is – or can and should be – a process of striving for wholeness and completeness.
The starting point of inner peace can be sought by remembering the words of Augustine of Hippo, that our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God. In other words, we can approach peace best by opening ourselves to divine peace-making and peace-keeping, by deepening our faith though time spent paying attention to God and God’s presence. This will help us to be honest about inner turmoil, a sign that we have failed to align ourselves with God’s will for us.
If we would truly like to ‘Give peace a chance,’ then we should remember that peace begins with us and within us. Starting with the alignment of our wills with God, we can strive to find ways to be at peace internally, and only then be effective channels of peace for a turbulent world.