As we embark once again upon the Christmas season, let us reflect for a moment on what Christmas is really about. On the evening Jesus was born, the angels appeared to the shepherds and proclaimed the good news: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace and goodwill toward men.” (Luke 2:14) What does this proclamation of peace and goodwill have to do with us today? The New Testament word related to peace, “eirene,” is the Greek translation of the Old Testament word, “shalom.” Both words encompass the ideas of peace (inner and outward), fulfillment, totality, completion, maturity, wisdom, soundness, wholeness (both individual and communal), community, harmony, rest, healing tranquility, security, well-being (welfare, commonwealth), satisfaction, contentment, friendship, agreement, success and prosperity. Is not this the shalom we dream of? Is it not our ideal of what Christmas should be about? But how can it exist in a world that is mired in warfare, brokenness, disrupted relationships, insecurity, poverty, injustice and enmity?
When the angels proclaimed “on earth, peace,” what they were really announcing was God’s gospel (good news) of peace and the reconciliation between God and man through the salvation which Jesus had come to bring. The Jewish people were looking for a Messiah, a new David, who would bring peace in terms of deliverance from the military rule of the Roman Empire. However, God had a much greater salvation in mind, a deliverance from all the bondage and oppression that man had been plunged into when sin entered the world. Only a salvation of this level could once and for all bring the shalom that mankind has longed for since that fateful day in the Garden of Eden when we chose “the knowledge of good and evil” over God’s design for us in relationship with Him. The shalom that Jesus brings is a reflection of God’s character, of His incredible love for us. When we accept God’s gift of shalom, He redeems us from the spiritual, material and social death and destruction caused by sin. He offers us the opportunity for fulfillment of His divine purpose for our lives.
Only with Christ in us can we be complete, no longer captive to the world, but intimately connected with Christ and perceiving the world as he does. He will be reflected in our thoughts, decisions, words and actions, and will bring transformed relationships, ideas, and behaviors. God is the source of true peace, of shalom; and Jesus, the gift of Christmas, is the mediator of that peace, bringing mankind into true community with the harmony, glory, wholeness, diversity, justice and peace God intended for His creation.
Jesus, our Peace-Maker, has called us, His disciples, to participate in restoring shalom. We are to be the called-out fellowship, the shalom community, united by the grace of the Spirit of God. We are to be a people of impact. We are to bring the gospel of God’s shalom to the world, to make believers and to intentionally disciple them so that they grow into maturity and are able to participate in the growth of the Kingdom of Heaven. When Jesus came to earth ?? the incarnation, Emmanuel, God with us ?? He put a face on God, clearly revealing His character. We, in turn, are to “incarnate” God to the world as we grow into the image of Christ, and like Him, make a difference in our communities by our every word and action. We are to evangelize, calling people to faith and relationship in Christ. We are to intentionally serve, doing the works of Christ, and through His love healing both broken people and broken relational structures. We must become stakeholders and contributors to civil society; we must become shepherds to our community. We must become a prophetic voice, standing up for the marginalized. We must seek to provide alternative, shalom-based answers to community problems, and tangible responses to issues in our world. This is what shalom is about. This is the peace Jesus brought and modeled. This is the “peace and goodwill to man” that the angels declared.
As we make our Christmas plans, let us remember our calling and plan to work it out in practical ways. Emmanuel ?? God with us ?? has come. Through our salvation, He has brought us shalom. And He has called us to participate in His work. Let us in this Christmas season do our part in building the Kingdom of God, bringing God’s peace and goodwill to all men.
Date: December 2005