By Pastor Tan Yu Yong
It is interesting to note how people greet each other during major festivals. Selamat Hari Raya, Merry Christmas or Happy Diwali are familiar greetings to Malaysians. However, one greeting stands out from the rest – Gong Xi Fa Cai, a greeting for Chinese New Year. While this sounds pleasant, the direct translation for these words is “hope you get rich!”
The truth is that not everyone who receives this greeting during CNY will stumble upon vast material wealth. In fact, many of those who receive this wish are in poverty or struggling with debt. And yet, we continue to wish people so, in the hope that the coming year will be better for them. In wishing them so, we want to inspire hope and anticipation, and maybe to a certain extent, better fortune for humanity.
For the Jews, they too have a regular greeting for one another. Whenever they meet, they would say “Shalom”. This word translates to “peace be upon you”. However, the Hebrew understanding of peace is rather different from our understanding. While peace in today’s context refers to an absence of violence, to tranquillity or calm, peace in Scripture refers to “completeness” or “wholeness”. Hence, when a Jew greets “Shalom” to another Jew, he/she is wishing that the person’s life, family, finances and spirituality will be complete. Just as “Gong Xi Fa Chai” is not a magic spell that supernaturally conjures prosperity, people who are greeted with “Shalom” often don’t experience true peace. That’s because true peace in our world is impossible to achieve.
But we can thank God that over 2000 years ago, when Jesus came and died on the cross, He gave the world a hint to what true “shalom” will look like. In fact, He commands His disciples to continue in His work, to minister to the poor, the needy, and those overlooked by the world. He commands us to meet often, to love and support one another in our times of need. And while we will not experience complete peace in our world, we can have glimpses of what true “shalom” looks like as we continue to contribute to the Kingdom of God.
Coming back to CNY, it is good to view this year with two lenses. One lens is to hope that this year will be better than the last. But maybe a second lens is to also remind ourselves that we live in a broken world. This year might probably be worse than last year. But as we wish one another “Gong Xi Fa Chai”, may we remind ourselves that true prosperity and true peace do not exist in our world. Rather, let’s look to the future, when our Lord will bring everlasting prosperity and peace when He returns. And as we wait, we try actively to be agents of true peace and prosperity to the people who need it.
🙏 Pray for one another to be agents of true peace and prosperity, and point others to the Prince of Peace.
🤝 Greet each other “Shalom/平安” as a reminder that peace from God eliminates fear, endures and is not contingent upon circumstances.