“On earth peace, goodwill toward men,” sang the angels on the first Christmas morning. The Hebrew word for peace is shalom. In Judaism shalom is a living concept, not a word; a vision for how life could be, should be, and the life God is pulling his whole creation toward.
In this way of thinking, peace is not merely the absence of war or conflict. It is not simply quietness or calm. It is overall wellbeing. It is health and wholeness. It is personal, communal, and cosmic harmony. It is a satisfied and blessed life.
So, when someone blesses you with “Shalom!” they are wishing you the highest and best that God can offer. “Be at harmony with yourself, your world and your God. Have a fruitful, robust life,” they are saying. All of that in a single word, and shalom is God’s intent and will for the world.
If this is true, then what in God’s world has gone so terribly wrong? As I write these words this world is anything but peaceful. Tyrants rule. Violence is routine. Political opponents dig in to fight, argue, vilify and wrangle. All while we mark the first terrible anniversary of that hideous act that played itself out in a Connecticut elementary school.
Peace, much less the broader idea of shalom, doesn’t seem to be how the “world really works” at all. We are pushed to the same conclusion as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow who wrote, mournfully, “There is no peace on earth, I said; for hate is strong, and mocks the song of peace on earth, goodwill to men!”
Yet, the problem is not God’s, for he has provided the path to peace and goodwill. The problem is our lack of practicing peace; and by “our” I am speaking of my own tribe – we who are Christians. We can be as hateful, combative, and eager for violence as any other group of people, sometimes more so. Nothing will change in this world – nothing – until those who follow the Prince of Peace become practitioners of his words and way.