How were we going to commit ourselves to grow in faith? How were we going to deepen our relationships with God? How were we going to better engage in our faith community in 2019?
Only once in my life have I celebrated Christmas twice in the same season. It was 1991 and I had celebrated a traditional Christmas with family and friends in Georgia, but on New Year’s Eve I was headed to Russia where I would celebrate Christmas again on January 7th, the traditional Christmas Day on the Russian Orthodox Church calendar.
“May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds ...” – Philippians 4:7
We remember Pearl Harbor Day on December 7. I recall some years ago wanting to make a point in a class I was teaching during Advent on this day.
There were a number of older adults in the class who had been young women and men during World War II. And my hope was to make the point that there had been such cooperation and teamwork and determination following the bombing of Pearl Harbor and throughout the war that everyone had pulled together and worked diligently and unselfishly for a common cause.
So with a few leading questions, I expected to elicit the kinds of positive answers necessary to make my point.
“So how did you feel, those of you left at home and working together?” And their answers?
These were not the words or emotions I expected. I should have.
I have studied a lot of WWII history. Years ago when living in Europe, I even had spoken with numerous Europeans about their involvement on both sides of the war.
What I had not studied, nor had I anticipated, were the feelings of those in the room that day on this side of the Atlantic. I was completely ignorant of what it had been like to live under fear, loneliness and the threat of loss, even though the physical war was an entire ocean away.
There was a lack of conflict on these shores in a literal sense. But there was no peace.
The Hebrew word for peace is shalom. It can be used as a greeting, farewell, blessing or description. It holds within it a deep and substantive concern for a kind of vertical peace with God, a horizontal peace with those around us and an inner peace with our selves.
When Jesus was asked the greatest commandment, he spoke in these terms: to love God with all we are and have, and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:37-38).
Such perspective yields an inner peace, we can say, because two of the three imperatives focus outside of ourselves.
It is difficult to love ourselves if we are not loving God, and are unable to love those around us. And we can never be at peace if the feelings we have are solely self-centered and anxious. We can love ourselves most fully, we can be most deeply at peace, then, as we are thinking and acting beyond ourselves.
Peace can be an existence without conflict. But far more than absence of conflict, it is presence with God. This is something vastly more.
It is having a life filled with relationships that are meaningful. It is a life that nourishes those relationships through spiritual depth and relishes a broadened understanding of those around us through genuine compassion. This kind of godly peace doesn’t just happen. It takes work.
David Jordan is the Senior Pastor at First Baptist Church of Decatur. He regularly contributes for Baptist News Global. You can read more of his writings on his blog here.