Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peaceO Holy Night
Our understanding of peace is often based on cultural usage. From the perspective of geopolitics, peace boils down to the absence of violence. The hippie counterculture of the 1960s co-opted the term, appropriating this anti-armament usage and adding a heaping dose of “I’m okay, you’re okay” ideology. A generation later, we’re left with a term that amounts to little more than “go along to get along.”
The meaning of peace was also up for grabs in the world into which Jesus was born. Pax Romana in the first century world was peace through bloodshed, the kind of “peace” that came at the tip of a spear. One came to know this peace by submitting oneself to Roman rule, by asserting the sovereignty of Caesar as the son of God, the lord of the earth. Go along, enjoy peace. Buck the system and, well, you can imagine.
But in the world of the Scriptures, peace is shalom, a Hebrew word that indicates the rightness of relationship. Shalom imagines a whole and healthy relationship with God, a communion with the Creator of heaven and earth as the center of one’s being. But true shalom spills out from this core into other relationships. Shalom draws the two of us into right relationship as well, with generosity and compassion and good will for one another. And shalom also draws me into right relationship with the created order, meaning that I seek the alignment of the earthly sphere and the spiritual sphere. This seems to be the understanding behind the prayer of Jesus: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” All of this flows out of shalom.
Few terms in the Hebrew imagination were so all-encompassing. Thus, shalom became more than a mere theological term; rather, it came to be the standard issue greeting for God’s people, conferred as a word of blessing upon neighbors, friends, and family members alike. The highest blessing I can seek on your behalf is that you might know shalom, that you would enjoy right relationship with God, with others, and with all of creation. This gets at the heart of how the term “peace” is understood in the Scriptures.
My favorite line of “O Holy Night” captures the essence of biblical shalom:
Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace
In the Incarnation, Jesus has come to reclaim heaven’s peace here on earth. He enters into human experience in order to restore shalom as a possibility for us once more. Sin severs the communion between God and man, but not irreparably. You could say that shalom is so important that God the Son left the throne room of heaven to put on flesh in order to restore us back to Himself. But this Good News requires us to be honest about the bad news. “I’m okay, you’re okay,” fails to capture the enormous debt of our sin. The Incarnation is a stark reminder of the cost of peace on our behalf. He became one of us to save all of us.
This shalom-making mission would require bloodshed. But in a notable departure from the Pax Romana, the blood would not be exacted from a conquered people, but rather on behalf of those enslaved. And even more radically, the true son of God and lord of the earth would willingly offer up Himself, sacrificially donating His own blood as an act of love that re-creates the world and makes shalom possible.
In this child, it will be possible for us to enjoy the rightness of relationship once more. The shalom communion enjoyed for all eternity by God the Father and God the Son and God the Spirit is now extended to us. Through Jesus we are invited into lively fellowship with God, with one another, and with all creation. This is the Good News: shalom has come near. And the surest sign of this shalom is the fulfillment of His law: to love one another.
Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.Romans 13:10
We celebrate the One whose law is love and whose gospel is shalom.
This season, may our hearts be arrested by true shalom.
May we enjoy rich communion with our Creator God. May we find rest in His presence.
May our fellowship with one another be robust. May we laugh deeply and love with our whole hearts.
May we hearken the alignment of heaven and earth. May we see and respond in kind.
May we find the gift of God’s shalom in Jesus, for He is our peace (Eph. 2:14).