As we wait for Advent to ends so Christmas can begin…we wait with hopeful expectation and peace knowing and believing God became incarnate in the baby Jesus, whose name in Hebrew means “Salvation.”
Although we are weary and worn down, we can rejoice because God’s salvation is with us and in us. We can rejoice because God has heard our cries and has come to us. We can rejoice because God gets us, and still loves us in spite of ourselves.
And so, it is here in God’s house, true peace does not allude us. But instead embraces us, heals us, and fills us. No matter who you are or where you are, God is there for you. So come as you are and let us worship our loving God together.
For most of the week, I had this earworm stuck in my head. Perhaps this has happened to you; a particular line in a song just keeps looping over and over again. I recently learned you can trick your mind to forget the loop by counting backwards from 100. I’ve also learned that earworms are not always accidental. Sometimes God’s uses them to get our attention.
Advent is a time we wait for the birth of Prince of Peace, in a world that worn down by war and violence. Families and communities are divided over ridiculous things. The lack of unity and harmony in government has stalled progress. The stress of all this is not very good for our physical, mental, or spiritual well-being.
We wait for Christ to come because we need peace more than ever. But we need more than just a veneer of calm and tranquility, or the absence of war and strife. We need the kind of peace portrayed in this psalm. A peace that comes not from humans but from heaven.
This passage uses the Hebrew word, shalom, which it’s often translated as peace. But in actuality the word is better understood as “wholeness” and “completion.” It often signifies connectedness, righteousness, and justice to name a few. Which is why when we see the word Shalom in scripture, it’s always connected to God. Therefore, to possess God’s shalom or be in the presence of it, is to be made whole or complete with the very essence of God.
Over time, shalom has become a way of blessing someone you meet or send off. But according to this psalm, it’s more than a blessing or a balm to soothe our spirit. In fact, God’s shalom is our salvation. It is the very thing that redeems and restores back to God’s steadfast love.
If you were brought up like me, you might have been taught a different version of salvation. One that requires payment to God because of our sinful nature. And in some Christian circles the only way we can receive it is by believing the right things. If your belief is wrong, well then be very afraid.
While there passages in the bible that describe Jesus as the atoning sacrifice for our sins, this psalm tells us that God’s forgiveness predates Jesus’ work on the cross by a few hundred years. It begins with the declaration that God has already forgiven our past transgressions.
Moreover, it describes salvation, not as a blood sacrifice, but as God’s glory taking up residency in the world. The vision we’re given is not hellfire-and-brimstone, but the glorious indwelling of God’s love, faithfulness, peace, and righteousness upon the earth.
This tells me God came not to “save us” from our sin but to bring salvation to “make us” whole and complete; to give us shalom so we have no need to ever sin again.
Better still, we don’t get this kind of peace as a reward for reciting the right doctrine or creed, God gives this as a loving gift to anyone and everyone who turn their heart back to God.
Like I’ve said before, when our hearts are focused on God then our actions can’t help but do what God wants us to do. And what is that? According to scripture, it’s “to seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8).
So, this raises a thorny the question. If salvation isn’t about our brokenness and sin, then where does Christ fall into this picture? After all, tis the season to make him front and center, right?
Well, the way I read scripture it seems somewhere along the way, we humans forgot where our hearts and focus need to be. So John’s gospel tells us, God sends the Son, the perfect and complete embodiment of God’s shalom that is fully realized in Jesus, the manifestation of God’s perfect love.
While comforting his disciples before his betrayal, Jesus tells them “I am in the Father and the Father is in me. You have seen God, because you have seen me.” (John 14:7).This is more than clue for us to correctly identify Jesus as the Messiah. It’s an invitation to become one with God as Jesus is one with God. God is always inviting us.
Through Christ, God took on human form so we could see God, know God, and follow God back to God’s heart. The way I see it, Christ Jesus leads us to our salvation because with him, and through him, and by his holy light, we are made whole and complete and one with God again.
While the world offers chaos, warfare, division, and death – the very things that steal our peace and make us weary and incomplete – Jesus shows us the way of true peace and harmony which comes from our connectedness to God and each other.
You see, our God isn’t distant or removed from us but has come to us to dwells with us. God wants a relationship with everything God creates. Not just humans but with all of creation.
The psalms are filled with verses where nature offers praise and glory to God. Where trees tremble before the Lord; mountains and rivers bow down in reverence. Paul even writes, “we know God, through the things God made” (Romans 1:20). Our job is to always be on the lookout, finding ways to connect our hearts to God.
One way we often connect is through our daily prayer. When we are in our most intimate and vulnerable space, or at the end of our rope, we know we can faithfully cry out and God will hear us and come to us.
Of course, Jesus - who taught us how to pray - shows us how to connect with God in all the ways we welcome a stranger or forgive a debt or trespass.
Each time we offer mercy or show compassion to another our hearts are drawn closer to God through them.
When we strive for justice, seek unity where there is division, our hearts become one with God where we find our peace, our salvation, our completeness.“No one has ever seen God,” wrote John, “but if we love one another God lives in us and his love is made complete in us” (1 john 4:12).
Shalom. Salvation. This is what Christ Jesus gives to us. He is the road, the truth and the life we are to follow because of where it leads.
Advent is a time of active waiting, a time we get our hands in the messiness of life as little incarnations of God’s glory.
It is a time to go out into Anamesa, that space between heaven and earth, to illuminate peace in all the ways we love God, love others, and serve both. To shine so brightly that others will be able to find their way back to God’s heart.
If we want to see hope and peace and love and joy prevail in this weary world, then we need to be a part of the solution and not the problem.
If we believe Jesus is the solution then we must imitate him, we must shine his light and love as he loved. We have to allow him to flow through us freely and liberally until “steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss.”
When God’s steadfast love and faithfulness meet in our everyday, ordinary lives; when God’s righteousness and peace embrace in all our relationships, our business practices and nations policies; when we work for God’s justice, care for the widows and orphans; when we strive for equality and free the oppressed; when we are tender to ourselves and show kindness to one another we make way for God in our world.
And wherever God is so too is God’s shalom, our wholeness, our completeness, and our salvation.
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word Year B, Vol 1. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2008).
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”