This coming Sunday we’ll light the second candle in the Advent wreath, and most of us will celebrate the theme of peace.
Most folks I know would be happy to have more peace in their lives. As we’ve closed in on the end of the semester at Campbell, the stress level has palpably increased for harried students trying to finish papers at the last minute, and for the professors who’ll be grading them. Folks face stress at work or because they have no work, and in their family life, or lack of one. Peace is a much-desired commodity.
When I reflect on peace, I like to settle my thoughts around the Hebrew word that is often translated as “peace.” The word is shalom, but it actually means much more than the absence of conflict. In modern Hebrew, shalom is used in much the same way as “Aloha” in Hawaii. It can mean “hello,” “goodbye,” or any number of things between.
The basic meaning of shalom, though, is wholeness. The verb shalam, from which the noun is formed, means something like “to make whole,” “to complete,” or even “to pay.” It’s used for things like “to pay one’s vows,” for example. The noun form can refer to wholeness or health: to wish someone shalom is more than a hope that no fights break out in the back seat on the way home — it’s a wish for inner wholeness.
That, of course, is the underlying key to having peace. When we feel fragmented or uncertain within, it’s hard to feel peaceful, especially when external conflict gets added to the mix.
When we have inner wholeness, however — a sense of personal integrity and the ability to know and be who we are — we can know surprising peace, even in the face of conflict. Troubles may blow against us like leaves in the wind, but they don’t bring harm or even stick around. To find peace, be whole.
And we find that wholeness, not only in personal emotional health, but in the experienced presence of God, which builds on the hope we have in Christ, the first theme of Advent. As the old apostle put it, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 5:13, NRSV).