By Ellen Di Giosia
Whenever I read this passage, I immediately start singing: “FOR unto US a child is BO-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-O- o-o-o-o-[this part goes on and on]-o-o-o-ORN!” I love Handel’s Messiah, but every singer knows that this can get really old – so old that the text itself seems to lose its luster. (This was not Handel’s intent, of course, although he should have thought about that before he spent so many measures on a single vowel sound.) The Messianic titles here may feel a little tired, too, after years of rattling them off in Bible drill: “Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.”
Prince of peace – sar shalom. In a world filled with war, this might be the hardest one to hear. I can see the person of Jesus in each of the other titles, but Advent never feels like the advance of peace to me. Instead, I am struck anew every year by the bloodshed that doesn’t let up just because it’s the holiday season. And Jesus’ birth certainly didn’t mean the end of violence; he fled Herod’s murderous rampage while still a baby, and his death would be marked by the cruelest kind of pain.
So when I read Eugene Peterson’s translation of this passage, my eyes lit up:
His names will be: Amazing Counselor,
Prince of Wholeness.
His ruling authority will grow,
and there’ll be no limits to the wholeness he brings.
Shalom means “peace,” but it also means “wholeness.” It doesn’t mean the absence of conflict, but the presence of something – Someone – greater who can pull together the conflicting parts of our communities and the conflicting parts of ourselves. As we yearn for peace this Advent, let us remember that the peace we wish to see in the world should begin with cultivating the wholeness in our own souls. Amen.