December 5, 2021

Making Room for Peace

 

Isaiah 9:2-7; Luke 2:1-14

 

Today’s passages are really meant for Christmas Eve. You will hear those passages when we have our Lessons and Carols service that evening at 7 pm, but no sermon. So I am using this opportunity to preach upon them. As Willa used the first candle, the candle of hope to be a portion of the focus for her sermon last Sunday, this morning I’ll be tying my sermon specifically to the theme for our second advent candle, the candle of peace. Let’s take a closer look at these two passages to see what they tell us about peace, about the Messiah as Prince of Peace and whether or not we can experience that peace in the world in which we live today.

 

Isaiah 9:2-7- is specifically about the newborn prince Hezekiah in the 8th Century BC. It was also likely used a couple of decades later in his coronation ceremony as a new King of Judah. This was a difficult time for Israel-a divided nation with memories of prosperity and unity long faded into the background. Assyria ruled Judah, as agreed to by Hezekiah’s father, and temple worship had been mixed with worship of Assyrian gods as well. The people longed for a new King who would be faithful to Yahweh, bring about a restoration of Judah, and maybe even reunite the northern kingdom with the southern, just like in the days of King David.  The people, as the passage tells us, were walking in the darkness, and needed some light.

 

The coronation of a new king in Jerusalem was an occasion for anticipation of a new wave of well-being, peace, and prosperity. That is reflected in the four titles assigned to Hezekiah - Wonderful counselor - a wise king who would listen to the counsel of his subjects; mighty God-One who would rule as a “Son of God” as a direct representative of God as Kings were thought to have been in those days;  Everlasting Father- a king who cared for his people like a loving father; and finally, our focus for today, Prince of Peace - a ruler who would bring peace to the people.

 

How did Hezekiah do, once he became King? Did he live up to his four titles in his birth announcement and coronation ceremony? For the most part, yes. Hezekiah enacted sweeping religious reforms, including a strict mandate for the sole worship of Yahweh and a prohibition on venerating other deities within the Temple of Jerusalem. He is considered a very righteous king in both the Second Book of Kings and the Second Book of Chronicles. He is also one of the more prominent kings of Judah mentioned in the Bible and is one of the kings mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. "No king of Judah, among either his predecessors or his successors, could ... be compared to him", according to 2 Kings. As for the title, “Prince of Peace,” the results are a bit mixed. He sought to separate Judah from Assyria, and led an armed rebellion against the occupying power, hoping to restore Judah to independence. The rebellion was crushed in 701 BC and Judah was defeated. Things looked grim as the Assyrian army prepared for a final crushing blow.  Yet God intervened with a plague against the Assyrian army, in effect wiping out the conquering force. As a result of God’s intervention, Judah then experienced nearly 100 years of peace and prosperity. So, Hezekiah did relatively well with the titles placed upon him, even as Prince of peace.

 

This passage in Isaiah was meant for Hezekiah, but also has an echo within it for the birth of Jesus many centuries later. This passage in Isaiah was one of many scriptures the Hebrew people used to birth a desire for a righteous ruler, or “Son of God” as Messiah. So in today’s passage, we find images of Jesus as well. Those of you using the book, Names for the Messiah in your Advent Bible studies are exploring those echoes and how those titles speak of Jesus.

 

Now onto our focus for today, the title, “Prince of Peace.” G.F. Handel and Charles Jennens’ work, the Messiah, includes this passage from Isaiah.  I’ve gotten to know this section of scripture intimately, not just from my study for the sermon, but also from the fact that I will have sung most of the verses of this passage in Isaiah 3 times over in 3 days in Roseburg, Myrtle Point, and Medford by the end of today. In the famous chorus, “For unto us a child is born,” the expectations and titles of a Messiah are emphasized over and over - “ Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. This phrase is repeated 4 times by Handel in the chorus to place emphasis on the expectations of Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. The chorus even repeats the last two titles and ends with “The Prince of Peace.” How did Jesus do in fulfilling this expectation as Prince of Peace?

 

First, we need to look at the word translated as peace in this passage from Isaiah. The Hebrew word for peace, “shalom” means many things. It not only describes the absence of hostility. It also speaks of general welfare - that is the health, happiness, and general wellbeing of others. In Jeremiah 29:7-11, the word shalom is translated as such. So to have shalom is the absence of conflict, as well as the welfare, wellbeing, safety, wellness, and wholeness of those around us. Shalom is a complex word for sure.

 

Let’s look at the passage in Luke for a bit of help. Notice in verse 14, the angels announce this anticipation of peace to the shepherds, that this child will bring peace, among those whom God favors. This is a clumsy translation and according to theologian F.F. Bruce really says, “Glory to God in high heaven, and peace on earth among human beings, the objects of God’s favor.” So, the angels announce peace to humanity through the birth of Christ. The New Testament word for peace, Eirene, encompasses shalom, and also means, “set as one again.”(Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible).

 

How then did Jesus do in fulfilling all of these expectations surrounding the title?

 

Now one may argue, what about Matthew 10:34, where Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”  Doesn’t this totally contradict the title? Jesus knew that following him would bring conflict, for he sought to restore the shalom God intended for human beings, which included challenging the well-entrenched systems of the day. In our Advent study book, Theologian Walter Brueggemann writes, “The premise of peace is the practice of justice for the poor and needy, and that anticipated peace includes a more general prosperity for the people, that is not just for the urban elites clustered around the king.” So the restoration of people and systems of shalom does bring division and conflict, for it seeks general prosperity for all people, not just an elite few, which challenges the status quo.

 

Jesus spent much time challenging the status quo by restoring the shalom of others around him, setting them as one again. There is the restoration of a woman washing Jesus’ feet. Jesus spoke of her love and hospitality as she washed Jesus’ feet. Despite her many sins, Jesus said to her, “Your faith has saved you; Go in peace.(Luke 7:50)

 

There is also the story of the Hemorrhaging woman in Luke 8:48-she who was labeled unclean and therefore untouchable. Yet when she reached out and touched Jesus’ cloak, Jesus searched her out among the crowd pressing in. He restored shalom in her, brought healing to her. His last words to her were, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”

 

When he sent the disciples out in Luke 10:5-6, he told them to go to people’s homes and say “Peace be to this house.”

 

As for his sacrifice upon the cross, Jesus restored shalom between humanity and God. 1 Peter 2:24-25 says, He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds, you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”

 

Peace also comes to us in Christ’s resurrection, as we have peace, shalom in the knowledge of eternal life, that there is more to come when this earthly life is done.

 

Overall, I would say that Jesus has fulfilled this title. This brings us to the last question, whether or not we can experience that peace in the world in which we live today. My answer is…perhaps. First, there is the question of whether or not we make room in our lives for Christ’s peace.

 

In our story in Luke’s gospel, Joseph and Mary are looking for any place to get in out from the cold, coming in during one of the high holy times of festival in Jerusalem. They find an inn, but there was no room, and they were turned away by the Innkeeper.

 

I remember one of the many times I worked with children to put together a Christmas Pageant. We of course had an innkeeper scene.  Joseph and Mary came to the door and asked for a place to stay. The child playing the innkeeper looked at them and said, “Sure! Come on in!” I had to tell the innkeeper that his lines were wrong, but that I loved his sentiment. He wanted to make room for this couple as they ushered in the Prince of Peace.

 

Is there room for Jesus in your life, or is he turned away from the door of your heart? Making room for this holy couple and for the child who is the Prince of Peace isn’t easy. It is a peace that seeks to love, that requires forgiveness to those who have wronged us, that calls us to place others first and ourselves last, that calls us to love our neighbor, EVERY neighbor as we love ourselves, that calls us to treat one another as we want to be treated. That is the kind of peace Christ offers if we let him in.

 

Yet it is more as well. Letting the Prince of Peace into our lives means working to restore shalom to creation and to those in the world around us. That is far from easy.

 

There was another mass school shooting last week, 4 dead, many wounded. There have been 225 mass shootings this year in the United States…so far. Consider this sobering reality - Mass shootings have become so prevalent in this nation that when the White House went to lower its flags to honor the 10 people shot dead at a Colorado supermarket way back on March 23, staffers realized their work was already done: The flags were still lowered from a shooting less than a week prior. This is not the reality God intended for creation.

 

Living in faith means working towards an alternate reality - one that is not yet fully established on the earth, the vision of God’s kindom, on earth as it is in heaven.  Therefore, if we find room and let him in, we find ourselves led by the Prince of Peace, who called his followers to help restore shalom.

 

This is where we Christians live out our days, between the already and the not yet. We find hope in these two passages of scripture, and in the memory of God’s past events while we work toward the promise of God’s shalom for all creation, for they give us an image of what has been and what one day will be. Biblical scholar, Gene M. Tucker’s words are right on point. “Do images such as these have any power? Deliberation, planning, and hard work are required. But images, like ideas and commitments, fuel the imagination, which stimulates planning and action.


Such a day of peace and justice as envisioned in this text may never come, but it certainly will not if there is no image drawing people toward it.” That peace has come in part, not yet in full. May we let the Prince of Peace into our lives, so that we may work for the image of shalom - the absence of conflict, as well as the welfare, wellbeing, safety, wellness, and wholeness of those around us. Alleluia. Amen

 

Closing Prayer

Jesus our Messiah, Prince of Peace, when you come knocking on our door, may our response be, “Sure Come on in!” May we then work to restore shalom to Your creation, that all might know your peace. Amen.

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