An Advent Journey: Re-gifted with Shalom
“The best of all is-God is with us,” Charles Wesley.
The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. Isaiah 11: 6-10
Picture frame one
Things needed: the Bible, today’s newspaper and a copy of The United Methodist Hymnal.
It will be helpful if you could do this guided reflection with one or two other people. Imagine yourself walking through the transformed world Isaiah presents in chapter 11:
- What do you see in this vision of Isaiah?
- What are the specifics of this vision?
- What strikes you as the key elements in this vision?
- What are some of the interdependent relationships you see here?
- What is your mood as you walk through the world presented in this vision?
- Who is in charge in this vision? Does it surprise you? Why? Why not?
- If you can talk with any one of the characters in this vision, whom would you choose? What would you talk about?
- How would you greet “the little child” who is pictured in this vision?
- If you can place yourself in this vision, where would you be?
One of the Bible Women leaders in the Philippines, a deaconess, once corrected me when I said this Isaiah passage presents an alternative vision of the world. She said, “It is the original vision of God for us,” and she is right.
The vision of Isaiah is God’s blueprint of Shalom, a state of peace, justice and harmony. It is not mere absence of armed conflict. It is more than that. Shalom is informed by interdependent relationships. It is peace between God and the created world; harmony among the living creatures and the human beings; peace on earth and peace with earth. It is characterized by the reign of God. The world itself is filled with the knowledge of God. Shalom is harmony among human beings based on understanding, equity, righteousness and fear of the Lord.
Picture frame two
Pick up today’s newspaper or listen to today’s prime time news. In your mind, draw a picture of the world presented to you by the media today:
- What kind of world did you read about, listen to or see in the media?
- What are some of the specifics of this world presented through the media?
- What are some of the key components of the news that still linger in your mind?
- Who or what forces were in control of the action(s) covered in the key news story? Does it surprise you? Why? Why not?
- What are some of the key discrepancies or resemblances between the world presented by the media and the world presented by the Prophet Isaiah?
Picture frame three
Now take a look at the community where you live:
- What do you see around you?
- Visualize your community, with all its key institutions. What are they?
- What are the needs of your community?
- What are the hurts of your community?
- What are the positives in your community?
- Where do you place yourself in your community?
- Where do you hurt in this relationship? Where do you rejoice in this relationship with your community?
- What are some of the key discrepancies or resemblances between the community that you live in and the world presented by the Prophet Isaiah?
- What are some of the key changes that need to happen in order to realize the peaceable kingdom of God presented in Isaiah’s vision?
Sing or read aloud “Let There Be Peace On Earth,” No. 431 in The United Methodist Hymnal.
The Lord’s Prayer
Say the Lord’s Prayer and meditate silently on some of the questions given below:
- What does Jesus mean when he taught us to pray, “Thy Kingdom Come”?
- What does it mean to seek first the kingdom of God?
- Where do you see God’s mission transforming and changing your attitudes and actions?
- What does a transformed community or world look like? Where do you see yourself as an instrument of that process?
Working for Shalom has a great appeal among the Bible Women – a training program funded through United Methodist Women Mission Giving. Some of the leaders in the Bible Women training in Sarawak, East Malaysia, some years ago, told Women’s Division staff that they would not want to be called Bible Women. When asked why, they said that the adjective does not communicate their mission adequately. When referred to as Bible Women, the words in Malay language mean “The Book (Al Kitab) Women.”
The women suggested they would like to be called Gospel Women. Over the years, a more acceptable phrase emerged: “Shalom Workers.” More women are willing to call themselves “Shalom Workers.” The vision of Isaiah continues to shape the religious and missional imagination of faithful followers.
The primary Shalom Worker in Isaiah’s vision is God. It is God who initiates a radical transformation in relationships. Humans and creatures are willing to undergo such a transformation. The Spirit of God directs the Shalom-making process. Relationships are transformed; wild animals learn to live in peace with domesticated animals; the latter learn to live without fear with the former predators.
Human children have been assured of security and safety in this scene of peaceable habitation, for their leader himself is a child. We are all followers of this Child of Peace.
In this journey, we need to ask ourselves:
- Are there places in your lives that need to open up to the reign of God?
- What are some of the things that work against Shalom in your lives, family and community?
- What are some of the ways you can address the threats to Shalom in this Advent season?
Shalom-making is a risk-taking process. The story of Christmas is about a risk-taking love. The Shalom-making God is with us. Emmanuel, God, is with us. Thomas Thangaraj, a retired professor of World Christianity, coins a Christmas phrase out of this for all times: “Emmanualization of the world.” Advent is a reminder of the need for making time and space for the Emmanualization of the world. Emmanualization is an Advent promise for all times that God is with us. As Charles Wesley said, “The best of all – God is with us.”
*Glory E. Dharmaraj, Ph.D., is director of spiritual formation and mission theology for the Women’s Division of the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries.