The third candle of the Advent season is typically the peace candle. A simpleton might consider peace the absence of war or conflict, but that is quite limiting. The peace candle of Advent reminds us there is a deeper meaning. There are often two ways to think about peace. To be at peace may mean there is no struggle or turmoil and in its place there is contentment at the center of life. You may have a calmness about you, a quiet spirit. Dallas Willard offers this definition, “Peace is the assurance that things will turn out well.”
There is Scripture upon Scripture that teaches life with God will bring you peace in this way. In John 14:27 Jesus is teaching and says, “I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” Just a few chapters later Jesus is speaking intimately with His disciples about His life and ministry on earth and says, “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” It’s interesting Jesus never promises perfect peace in this world; in fact it’s quite the opposite. He says there will be trials and sorrows, but what is also promised is His victory over this world and the peace we can have knowing “all things will turn out well.”
The Bible tells us what to do in order to bring peace when struggles do arise. Philippians 4:6-7: Don’t worry about anything. Instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
Isaiah 26:3 gives us a promise to cling to as well: You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you! To reiterate, life will not be peaceful, but life with God will always afford you peace.
Oddly enough I believe this way of understanding peace is quite shallow compared to the ever deeper and more complete meaning, namely shalom. Many of you may know shalom as a casual greeting. Scripture shows us it is far more than hello. Shalom in Greek is eirene. This little word refers to one’s entire well being, especially spiritually speaking. Shalom, or eirene, is wholeness “that flows from a right relationship with God.” (Greek/English Interlinear New Testament) So what does this have to do with Advent? Everything.
The season of Advent has a two-part purpose. The first is for us to remember God sending his son, Jesus, to earth. The Israelites were anticipating the Deliverer, Messiah, Christ. They were awaiting His coming, hence the name Advent. We are told in Isaiah 9:6 one of the names for Jesus was Prince of Peace. Peace was promised with the coming, the birth, of Jesus. Ephesians 2 says Jesus brought peace to everyone by leveling the playing field so to speak. Through His life and death Jesus tore down the invisible walls of cultures, backgrounds and prejudice. There was no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female. We are told we are all God’s children. We are all equally reconciled to Him regardless of our background, lifestyle, religious status, etc. Since Jesus has come comparing oneself to another no longer is necessary, positive or helpful. There is no need. Through Jesus we know “everyone is wrong; everyone is loved; and everyone is called to recognize this and change.” (Keller) The Prince of Peace has eliminated competition with our neighbor and revealed our desperate state to be at peace with God. We would not be given the opportunity to experience true shalom, wholeness with God, without the coming of Jesus.
The second part or purpose of Advent is to anticipate the second coming of Jesus. In Acts, and in several other passages, we’re told Jesus will be coming again at the end of our time as we understand it. Peace in this respect is more eternally focused. While Jesus being born began the reconciliation we have with God, Jesus’ death solidified that healed relationship. Isaiah 53:5 says, the “punishment that brought us peace was upon Him and by His wounds we are healed.” Jesus took the punishment for our unholiness in order for us to be at peace with the holy God. Colossians 1:20 says it a different way, “and through Him God reconciled everything to Himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.” This verse explains shalom. This peace means when Jesus comes again, which lovers of Jesus long for, there will be no judgment for them, they will be complete because of the relationship they have with God. All moments of disobedience will be covered, forgotten, forgiven. Matthew 25 explains this time as Jesus separating the sheep from the goats. The sheep are welcomed into the Kingdom of God and the goats are cast away from Him, separated forever.
Advent is a time to remember the Prince of Peace came exposing humanity’s equality with one another by revealing everyone’s need to be reconciled to God. Advent is also a time to look forward to reuniting with Jesus, the One who brought us shalom, wholeness through God.
There was a brief 6-month period in my life where I felt fully exposed to the equality of humanity. I worked as a chaplain in a hospital in a Chicago suburb. These 6-months spanned over Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. Within those walls of that hospital it was a level playing field. Illness, trial and sorrow affected the rich and poor, the Christian and Muslim, the young and old. Everyone was desperate. Everyone needed healing. Everyone needed peace. As I think back over the families, the faces, and the pain I witnessed I am so very grateful for the promise of peace I have through Jesus. Everyone was offered peace when Jesus was born. Everyone is offered shalom through a relationship with God. Everyone can experience peace in the present, but only with a life with Jesus. Illness is temporary. Trials aren’t permanent. Sorrows will not remain. Jesus came bringing His peace to sustain us in this world. Jesus will come and bring us shalom in the presence of God. Here and now, regardless of what is happening around you or to you or in you my hope is that you can say, “It is Well With My Soul”.
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, It is well, it is well, with my soul.
Refrain: It is well, with my soul, It is well, it is well, with my soul.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come, Let this blest assurance control, That Christ has regarded my helpless estate, And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought! My sin, not in part but the whole, Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more, Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
But, Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait, The sky, not the grave, is our goal; Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord! Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!
And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight, The clouds be rolled back as a scroll; The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend, Even so, it is well with my soul.