- Patricia Holbrook For the AJC
Peace. In Hebrew: Shalom (transliteration.)
I was 20 years old when I visited Israel for the first time. Shalom was one of the very few Hebrew words I learned after spending 15 days in that country.
Anyone visiting Israel understands that “shalom aleichem,” (peace unto you) is used as a common greeting among Jews. Therefore, I learned very early into my visit to nod my head or raise my hand and repeat the word while greeting Jews throughout Israel. In my mind, however, the translation was as simple as the connotation of the word “hello” in the English language. I didn’t understand the complexity of the word “peace” in both Hebrew and New Testament Greek until many years later, when I started studying Scriptures in depth.
According to the Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament published in 1996 by United Bible Societies, the word in the Old Testament basically means “completeness,” “soundness” “well-being.” It is also found in numerous Old Testament texts to describe the peace that one finds when in harmony with another, or when seeking the good of a city or country. It can mean material prosperity or physical safety, and it is also intrinsically connected to one’s spiritual well-being associated with seeking righteousness and truth, instead of wickedness.
In the classical Greek, the word (eirēnē - transliteration) was primarily used as “cessation or absence of hostility.” But when it is used in the New Testament Greek, the word receives the full context of the Old Testament “shalom,” adding to it another strong spiritual meaning: the peace found when God’s grace and righteousness meets mankind through Messiah.
It is the peace sung by the angels announcing Jesus’ birth to the shepherds in the fields of Bethlehem: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased.”
It is the peace that Jesus promised to leave with his disciples during the first Lord’s Supper, as he was preparing them for his departure: “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.”
This peace is a gift that cannot be found inside the most expensive item wrapped and placed under the Christmas tree. It is a peace that many sing about during this time of the year, and yet few have truly found. It is a peace that money cannot buy: abiding, lasting peace, even through the fiercest storm.
For 25 years I attempted to fill a hole in my heart, looking for “shalom” in many wrong places. I thought I’d find it in my career, or when I finally met Mr. Right. I attempted to buy it at the mall, or attain it when the number on the scale showed that I had reached my ideal weight. Every time, the loss of any of these things would steal my peace. That “hole” in my heart was never filled, until I found “shalom” — peace with God.
Christmas is around the corner, and even though I love the gifts and Christmas traditions as much as anyone else, I am so grateful that my joy and peace are not linked to anything that this world can offer. Rather, to me personally, joy and peace are anchored in knowing the baby in the manger as my Lord and Savior. He is the bridge that takes me to the place where I find peace with God: a peace that does not leave me in sickness, or material loss. A peace that seals my heart when I miss a loved one, because I know I will see them again one day. It’s peace that always comes back, even if I temporarily lose it while facing difficult circumstances.
And that is the gift that I pray you find this Christmas: Shalom. Complete, abiding, lasting, perfect peace.
Merry Christmas and a happy new year!
Patricia Holbrook is a Christian author, columnist, blogger and international speaker. Visit her website www.soaringwithHim.com. For speaking engagements and comments, email pholbrook@soaringwithHim.com.