A reflection for the second week of Advent: Peace
If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs…
… Do you really understand the situation?
With apologies to Rudyard Kipling (and the writer of a greetings card who provided the punchline), it can feel strange to admit to feeling peaceful in the midst of a difficult situation. Others may look somewhat askance: ‘Do you really not understand just how bad this is?’
Then there are those situations where peace is notably absent. Some time ago, I was on the receiving end of considerable criticism (not for the first time, and probably not the last!). It was hurtful and despite efforts to understand the situation, I was left not knowing what it was all about. There was no peace.
Peace. From the Latin pax – an agreement to end war, dispute or conflict between people, groups or nations. In both Hebrew, the main language of the Old Testament, and Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke, the word is shalom and means having a sense of wellbeing, completeness and tranquillity. In Greek, the primary language of the New Testament, eirene combines both those meanings (that was my mother’s name and I never knew it meant that until I wrote this post).
In many church services, there is an opportunity to the ‘share the Peace’. Often before receiving communion. To be at peace with one another – well at least until the end of the service…
Although peace is not just the absence of conflict, it is all too common for churches, workplaces and other organisations to be riven with argument and dispute. Some having lasted for years. Some continuing because no one made a choice to end them. There is no peace.
It was Paul who, writing a letter in Greek to the Christians at Philippi, coined the phrase ‘the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding.’ (Philippians 4:7)
He was writing to a church which was at that time divisive, contentious, and combative. Jessica Brodie writes ‘For a people accustomed to conflict and trouble, the promised peace of God would have been not only desirable but something they could scarcely begin to imagine.’ Brodie also points out how Paul precedes that well-known phrase with an encouragement that may have sounded rather odd to the original readers: he was asking them to reset their mindset…
‘Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.’ (Phil 4:4-7)
The way to peace… Rejoice in what God provides (I return to that theme next week). Be gentle – let it be gentleness that people see, not conflict. Do not worry – where have we heard that one before. Pray – ditto. And peace will follow.
Peace is also about wellbeing, completeness and tranquility. ‘It’s not a peace of perfect circumstances – a basking in Divine sunshine or even a warm, religious feeling,’ writes Robyn Wrigley-Carr. The same author goes on to quote Evelyn Underhill: ‘Peace is a willing acceptance of all that comes to us; a deep tranquility, persisting through both light and darkness, success and suffering, and one of the surest signs of spiritual health.’
The peace that surpasses all understanding is the kind of peace and wholeness that words cannot describe. A state of being which is beyond our comprehension. It surpasses our understanding. Peace experienced because Jesus himself promised it: ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.’ (John 14:27a)
Peace that doesn’t come from all that surrounds us. It doesn’t come from the transitory trappings of life: ‘I do not give to you as the world gives.’ (14:27b)
This is the peace which enables us to know the truth of Christ’s words: ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.’ (14:27c)
So when all about us are losing their heads (and maybe we are too), how do we experience this peace which surpasses all understanding?
In many ways, it is a gift from God, born from his love for each one of us. A gift we can choose to accept or not.
- Be gentle (with yourself)
- Do not worry
…And peace will follow.