Advent is drawing to a close and this week, and - well, at least according to the devotional book I'm working with this year* - the candle of the Prince of Peace was lit. Oddly enough, I am typing this on a military base in South Korea. I cannot and will not go into detail about precautions taken to secure the base, but let's just say that while the fighting is over, the peninsula is still very tense.
Quickly browsing the news shows that we do not live in a peaceful world. Recent violence and crackdowns in Pakistan and Burma, continuing hostilities in Kosovo and Israel, multiple civil wars in Africa (Sudan and Uganda come to mind), and US operations in Iraq and Afghanistan provide plenty of evidence that we have a long way to go before world peace is achievable. And that peace will, unfortunately, probably be heralded by war.
So how can we say that the Prince of Peace has come? This very same Prince was violently killed by the Romans. For nearly all of its existence, some part of the Church, the Bride of Christ, has used violence to achieve its goals - the Crusades, the Inquisition, anti-Semitism and other forms of racism, and even preaching that God was responsible for 9/11. The leaders of the Church who practice nonviolence are killed - Martin Luther King, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Saint Stephen.
Surely this cannot be the Peace promised in Isaiah.
And it's not.
The peace we hope for, the peace that Christ will bring, will come with his return. Advent is as much about the return of Christ as it is about his birth in Bethlehem. The Prince of Peace, our Wonderful Counselor, God With Us, will come again and usher in a new kingdom, a new age. Tears will be wiped away and swords will be beaten into plows. As Peanuts creator Charles Schultz famously put it, "The beagles and bunnies will lie down together."
*Advent liturgy is weird. Different churches and denominations assign different meanings to the candles and weeks, light them in different orders, and so on. Confusing? Yes. But as long as everyone in the congregation is on the same page and use the time as a period of preparation and looking forward to Christmas, it's all good.
PS: The title of the post comes from Matisyahu's album Youth. "Shalom" and "saalam" are the Hebrew and Arabic words for "peace".