It had actually been a really good day up until that moment; not perhaps the perfect day, but its average was definitely high. The trains were all running late but by good fortune I managed to get on an alternate that would get me home earlier, so I dropped my bag and my bones onto the first seat I saw and sighed contentedly.
It was around about this point that it happened. Someone acknowledged my existence. Not just a nod either, actual verbal recognition of my presence near them on the train. And they had children. The future flashed before my eyes: it involved noise, joviality, and impromptu games of ‘I spy’ while we rattled through the English countryside.
Finding myself arrayed against such impossible odds, I did the only thing that seemed to provide an answer. I waited about two minutes so it wasn’t awkward, stood up with my bag, and set off toward the quiet coach – wandering in search of peace.
In a lot of ways that’s most of us in life, seeking peace but never quite finding it. Of course peace for you may not be the quiet coach, it may be the kids and the games, it may be something entirely different, but in an age where anxiety, stress and depression are on the rise the search for peace has become an integral part of the human condition.
The problem with peace is that it seems so hard to pin down; no sooner do we think we may have found it than it escapes us and we lean towards it again, our reach forever exceeding our grasp. There must be a solution, somewhere, somehow, we must be able to find peace.
2700 years ago a Hebrew prophet called Isaiah, living in Babylon in exile from his homeland, wrote about the coming of a child who would change things. He would be something different, something special, and among the titles given to him was sar shalom, Prince of Peace.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
– Isaiah 9:6
Fast forwarding seven centuries a child is born in Bethlehem, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger. His birth is heralded by angels, signalled by the heavens in the form of a star, and His entrance to the world was the turning point of all history to the extent that we still measure dates based on how many years before or after His birth they were.
This child was Jesus Christ and one of the last things He said on earth, a man whose execution was fast approaching, was that we could have peace in Him. This was no mere coincidence. Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah all those years before and, in case we missed what He was doing, He made it quite clear.
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.
– John 16:33
The Prince of Peace. That word shalom that the prophet had used is well known to mean peace but it’s not a simple direct translation. Shalom is not simply peace, it is a far more holistic concept that weaves together many things to bring a sense of wholeness and well being. Shalom is not merely peace, it is perfect peace.
What Jesus says is that this shalom is not dependent on our circumstances. It’s not dependent on politics, economics, earthly relationships, it is dependent on Him. No matter what is going on around us, Sar Shalom brings us peace on the inside. In his letter to the church in Philippi, Paul tells us that this peace passes all understanding.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
There is nothing I can write here which will bring full understanding of this peace, it needs to be experienced; the closest analogy I can find is my relationship to a particular piece of music.
The Prelude to Bach’s Cello Suite number one is, for me, the closest earthly experience I can use to describe shalom. On the worst of days, in the worst of circumstances, I often listen to this piece of music; while the tempest rages around about, there’s a sense of peace that I find in it that calms my head.
Sometimes, as G.K Chesterton would put it, we don’t need to get the heavens into our head, we need to get our head in the heavens. We can’t possibly understand and come to peace with everything going on in the world, but we can still find peace in the one who can.
The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.
– G.K Chesterton, Orthodoxy.
This week we celebrate the birth of sar shalom, the Prince of Peace. As we do so let’s remember that no matter what the circumstances of life are, no matter what is going on in the wider world, He has given us peace in Him. He is in control, He has overcome, so it is a time to rest and let Him show us perfect peace.
Merry Christmas, and thank you for reading my blog this year. Shalom.