Advent Reflection: Peace – not absence of conflict

Jan Brueghel the Elder, John the Baptist preaching
Image via Wikipedia

It may strike one as absurd that a day given to reflecting on peace revolves around that fiery wild figure that stormed out of the Judaean desert preaching repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of sins. John the Baptist seems an incongruous figure for what we imagine to be peace – serene narcosis wrapped in fluffy cotton wool where the daily grind can’t “get at us.”

Consider the elements of true peace however, based on the Semitic languages shalom (Hebrew) or salaam (Arabic and its derivatives), alluding to wholeness in relationship with self, others, the environment and the Divine. It seems to me that one has to navigate some conflict to achieve each of those summits.

Well known New Testament scholar Bill Loader, at the local Uniting Church commissioning service for their local minister, noted three surprises in Mark’s use of the John the Baptist episode to open his discussion of  what the “good news” of Jesus was all about. I summarise and paraphrase, hopefully accurately, his points as I heard them. But go here for Bill’s online commentary on this passage.

First, there is the lack of apocalyptic judgement often associated with John the Baptist’s ministry. Change is in the wind, people are being called to change, but the use of Isaiah’s words are couched in the language and context of comfort and strength. The world is full of people bearing a heavy weight of oppression , poverty and injustice, but change is possible and imminent.

The second surprise is the universality of John the Baptist’s message. All are invited to the baptism he offers – poor and rich, sick and well, Jew and Greek, peasant and soldier. There is no particularity, the invitation to change is for all. It begins with “repentance”, literally “turning to face a new direction,” or we might think of starting again with a blank page. The word used by Mark is metanoia (Koine Greek) “renewing of the mind”.

The third surprise is the incompleteness of his ministry – forgiveness is a beginning, but completeness comes with one who baptises with the Holy Spirit and who demonstrates the presence of God’s reign amongst us through the ministry of the Spirit. Those who wear the name of Christ must get past acting as if it was only about forgiveness and get on with the Spirit ministry of teaching, reconciling, healing and helping build a world that is whole.

It sounded to me a little bit like shalom, salaam, peace.

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Published by wonderingpilgrim

Not really retired but reshaped and reshaping. Now a pilgrim at large ready to engage with what each day brings.

4 thoughts on “Advent Reflection: Peace – not absence of conflict

  1. I’m new to your blog. Your comment on Kate Shrewsday’s posting yesterday in which you spoke of “thin places” intrigued me. I first met that term in the first novel of Elly Griffiths featuring the archeologist Ruth Galloway. The book is entitled “The Crossing Place.” Her second book in her planned series is “The Janus Stone.” I wonder if you’ve read them.

    Your posting today on peace so wonderfully explained what the word has come to mean to me. Peace. Oneness. Wholeness. Those three words are replete with meaning for me.

    I especially liked the following line from your post: We must “get on with the Spirit ministry of teaching, reconciling, healing and helping build a world that is whole.” This is said so well.
    Thank you.



  2. Hi Dee

    Thanks for visiting and commenting. My reply is delayed because of internet access problems due to some very unpeaceful weather here!

    I can’t recall where I first came across the term “thin places” but I recall that the concept intrigued me sufficiently to explain the resonance I had experienced with certain features of landscapes and landmarks in remote areas of Australia and even unspoiled bushland in built-up areas. It gave me a deeper appreciation of Aboriginal connection with the land. Most of what I have read since has come from contemplative Christian authors on Celtic spirituality, chiefly Ray Simpson, David Adams and Margaret Silf. Many of my ramblings here and there on peace are also influenced by the re-emergence of Celtic spiritual perspectives.

    I look forward to visiting your blog when my internet is working again!


  3. Thanks for this. The cross is indeed a good place to start (and to which to return) but I think sometimes that we spend too much time there waiting for forgiveness. Perhaps the Lord would want to say to us. “I forgave you a long time ago. Now, up, there’s work to be done.”

    You’ve been blogging a long time I see. I didn’t realise there was someone else with a WonderingP blog. My apologies.


  4. Hi Ian

    Just perused your blog and I see we’re on the same page about many things. Is it possible we’ve encountered our cyberspace doppel-ganger? 🙂 No apologies necessary. I think “wondering” opens up many more possibilities and opportunities for discovery than dogmatism (although there is much I remain dogmatic over). Some of my critics will insist on referring to me as “wandering,” however. Such is life, put pleased to remain both a pilgrim and a preacher for the sake of the crucified and risen One.


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