The Meaning of Shalom and the Spirit of Advent

what does shalom mean

We’re celebrating Advent by giving away dozens of free books and beautiful Advent Art. In this post, Martin Weber reflects on the peace signaled by this season of anticipation. Martin is the author of numerous books, including My Tortured Conscience and God Was There: True Stories of a Police Chaplain. He currently manages SDA content for Faithlife.

As we scramble in and out of stores for holiday shopping, Salvation Army volunteers stand beside their red donation kettles, patiently ringing their bells. They invite us to remember those who shiver outside the circle of sharing. Many pastors answer that invitation by partnering with the Salvation Army, conducting funerals for homeless men and women without church or family.

During my last pastorate, I conducted one such funeral for a man named Scottie. With his drinking buddies scattered throughout the sanctuary, I eulogized Scottie’s life as of infinite value to God and to us all—no matter what his struggles and setbacks. Suddenly like a shout from hell, drunken hollering interrupted my tribute.

“Scottie was nothing but a worthless piece of %&@!”

Sam’s disruption was impossible to ignore. Could it become a teaching moment? Praying for that, I stepped around the pulpit and walked down the center aisle to where the commentator slouched.

“Sam, why would you say something like that?” I tried to reason with him without letting him spoil the service. But he bellowed in reply, even more belligerent. “Scottie was just a drunk son of a #*!”

I noticed the horrified face of our student intern pastor, her eyes wide with shock. Sam’s brazenness caught me unprepared too. Please God, I pleaded silently, Turn this distraction into a salvation experience for them all.

The other attendees chuckled, amused that their back-alley comrade had taken on the suit-wearing preacher. Ignoring them, I responded, “Sam, we all know Scottie had a drinking problem—but did that make him any less precious to God, or to us?”

Snickering subsided as everyone got serious. A satanic attempt to smother their salvation had raised a life-and-death question that mattered to them all. I sensed the Spirit about to break through.

But Sam cleverly dodged my question, proclaiming with a smirk, “I don’t believe in God!”
My response came to me in a flash. Looking straight at him, I announced, “Maybe you don’t believe in God, Sam, but God believes in you.”

Sam sat up stunned, his bitter spirit silenced. As the congregation exited the sanctuary and dispersed to the alleys and dumpsters, I sensed that many hearts had been stirred with shalom from the Prince of Peace.

Peace isn’t passive

Shalom is loosely translated “peace” in the Old Testament, but it connotes so much more. The Hebrew word goes deeper and wider than peace as we teach it. Ironically, Christians typically think more like Buddhists about peace. We see it as superficial and passive—the absence of negativity such as strife, guilt and anger. By contrast, shalom in Scripture is positive, energetic, proactive.

One’s personal shalom (Ps. 4:8) is shared with family members (Gen. 43:27). From the home it ripples outward to the faith community (Ps. 29:11) and beyond to the public square (1 Kings 5:11, 12)—even reaching out to enemies (Jer. 29:7). Shalom extends beyond humanity to animals (Gen. 37:14) and ultimately includes inanimate creation (Zech. 8:12).

Biblical Shalom is the utopia for which Western civilization has yearned since the days of Plato. It is the failed promise of ancient empires and contemporary politicians, the frustrated dream of formerly love-struck newlyweds.

Sam and his friends got only a glimpse of shalom that day. Humanity is incapable of envisioning shalom in all its fullness. That’s possible only through experiencing Jesus Christ, in whom we have “peace through the blood of His cross” (Col. 1:20). Having now been justified by faith in Him, we have shalom with God to share with one another.

Shalom is embodied in the Christ child; it is the true spirit of Christmas. The Bethlehem angels on that holy night heralded the glad tidings of great joy: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth shalom with goodwill among humanity (Luke 2:14, author’s adaptation).

Israel’s royal city sat just four miles from where baby Jesus lay in a manger. Though Jerusalem means “city of shalom,” the city has never truly lived up to the promise of its name. But the risen Lord of glory has promised us a New Jerusalem, an eternal utopia without funerals—no more dying or crying. Nothing but unrestrained shalom with him and one another, forever and ever.

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Comments

  1. I liked the brief exposition of Shalom, but I must make it clear that not all Christians think that Christmas has anything to do with the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. The date does not make sense, and, as you probably know anyway, the occasion is basically a Roman saturnalia feast day. We should have nothing to do with it. Certain birth times and places of death are not disclosed in Scripture, for a good reason.
    The world ‘keeps’ Christmas without knowing the slightest thing about it.
    Christians should know better and remember the birth and life and death of our Lord Jesus Christ all day, every day.
    And keep away from the consumerism! Christmas now is all about money. Don’t get caught up in it. Stay separated.

  2. Thank for sharing! You words speak, love, hope, joy and the wonderful peace of the One all need to see this time of year.

  3. True shalom is the natural result of righteousness by faith being effectually experienced within ones life. That ends up affecting everyone around him/her.

    Great article

  4. We can choose to recognize the tenuous origins of Christmas’ date or we can look beyond that and make a conscious decision to look beyond that and use this time to think more deeply about one aspect of this Gospel story. I , as do most reading this, will know the roots of most religious holiday’s dates rest in paganism, but that in no way minimizes ones Liberty to meditate upon Gods gifts to mankind in a special way.

    Shabbat shalom Martin

  5. Could someone please tell me what is meant by “God believes in you”?