This semester, at Just Love Glasgow, we have been focusing on the theme of “Shalom” – peace with four strands: God, others, creation and ourselves” and I think this theme fits in perfectly with the Christmas story we all know so well.
Being at peace with God is arguably the most important of all four strands. It is through our shalom with God that the other strands will follow. Our relationship with Him helps us love, respect and be at peace with others, creation, and ourselves, to our full potential. Mary and Joseph display their shalom with God in their blind obedience to his instructions. In Luke 1 v 38 when Mary says “behold I am your servant – let it be according to your word Lord”, she agrees to give up her body, and any future plans she had had ready made, to follow God’s will. When Joseph abandons his idea to divorce Mary and stay with her under God’s instruction, he too is placing his future into God’s hand. Whilst both characters were at times afraid, their relationship with God helped them recognise that God’s plan was greater than their own. They obeyed Him, and placed all of their trust in Him. They believed in the promises He made them, and looked to Him for guidance and comfort. Mary and Joseph’s shalom with God, helped them to find peace with each other and others they encountered. Joseph shows sensitivity and compassion towards Mary, who could have been stoned to death for falling pregnant outside marriage to a man who wasn’t her fiancé. But instead Joseph didn’t want to shame her, but intended to divorce her quietly.
As for shalom with others, I was mostly struck by the inclusion of the shepherds in the birth of Jesus. These men were only slightly more “socially acceptable” than lepers. They weren’t even allowed to testify in a court of law because their honesty and integrity was so highly questioned. They were truly outcasts in society. However, they were invited to meet and worship the newborn king! The Son of God! They were put in the same position as the wise men. Jesus was loving, welcoming and compassionate towards the disadvantaged even from before His birth. The beginning of His life marks a breakdown of social and political barriers for all.
Finding peace with ourselves can sometimes be very challenging, especially amongst university culture. We are constantly faced identity choices and pressures from those around us. No doubt many of us will be faced with the dreaded “what’s your plans after uni then?” question when we return home to our families for the festive period. When faced with this, I hope I can be like Mary and Joseph. They accepted and embraced how God saw them, and who God had created them to be. Subject to pressure and shame from people around them, they held close to God and His plan. Their value was not found in earthy status or achievement, but God’s love and promises.
The last branch, shalom with creation, is displayed the whole way throughout the Christmas story. From The donkey that carried the couple to Bethlehem, the animals that assembled in the stable, the star that guided the wise men or the light that shone around the angels when they appeared to the shepherds. Man and creation working together and being in harmony with each other is entrenched in the Christmas story. Creation being used in a way to glorify God is by no means a new “lefty Christian” idea – it has been important from the very beginning.
The Christmas story perfectly displays the four elements of shalom. From the moment Jesus was born, He bridged the gap between God and ourselves, He taught us how to love others, He gave us our worth and He honoured creation.
The truth is, we don’t have the celebrate Christmas. The tree, the turkey or Michael Bublé are nowhere in the bible. Many of the things we do to mark the occasion are simply a result of culture and tradition. But most of us will be celebrate anyway, in response to the wonderful gift we received all those years ago. Let’s take Christmas, and this whole festive season, as an opportunity practice the perfect Shalom the Christmas story displays. Let’s spend time in communication with God, listening and obeying him. Let’s show love and compassion to those around us, be it family members we find more difficult, or those experiencing need in our city. Let’s stop comparing ourselves to others, and truly believe how much God values us. And let’s honour creation in our celebration, by gifting ethically and not disregarding recycling in amongst the madness.
Merry Christmas! He came for us all.
Words by Lara Millar