“For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us, and the government will be on his shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
No sermon for you this morning. Yesterday we celebrated Christmas together during our morning worship in lieu of our usual choir cantata. It was different from the norm as is the rule of the day, but it was a wonderful time of worship together. Here’s the link if you’d like to watch it. What we are going to do this morning instead of the usual sermon (we’ll continue our series, All Planned Out, next week) is continue in our Advent journey together. This week, we are talking about peace. What exactly is peace and what does it mean that Jesus is the prince of it? Let’s dig in together.
What Isaiah writes here is one of the most well-known prophecies associated with Jesus’ birth. It is also one that gets a lot of attention completely devoid of any of its attendant context. I explored that context in some detail last Christmas. You can read that here if you’re interested. The short version is this: Isaiah wasn’t offering immediate hope to his original audience. He was offering judgment in light of King Ahaz’s faithlessness. He had put on a show of piety, but there wasn’t any substance to it. Isaiah had called him out for this and assured him that he would face judgment for it. But, hope was on the horizon. Something better was coming. A child would come to lead and would grow to be all the things he wasn’t. And one of the things this child would be was the Prince of Peace.
There’s that word again.
What exactly is peace? Well, the best Bing has to offer on a quick search is simply that peace is the absence of conflict. But if you think about it, that doesn’t really answer our question. At all. Defining something by telling us what it’s not helps us understand what’s not, but doesn’t tell much about what it actively is. What’s more, while that may be the definition of peace that comes quickest to your own mind, you know experientially that it isn’t sufficient. How do I know that? Because you’ve had times when you weren’t in conflict with anyone or anything and were still not at peace. You couldn’t put words on it, but there was just a sense of dis-ease to your life that left everything feeling just not as good as it could have been.
So again, what is peace?
Well, for help here, let’s go back to what Isaiah wrote. He said this child–we’ll just run on the assumption that he was talking about Jesus before he knew he was talking about Jesus–would be the prince of…and every English translation in the world uses the word “peace” there. The word in Hebrew is one you’ve almost certainly heard before: Shalom. Jesus, Isaiah said, will be the Prince of Shalom.
Okay, well, what is “shalom”? When we turn once again to our trusty search engine, we get the entirely unhelpful explanation that “shalom” is a traditional Hebrew greeting that means roughly the same thing as the English word “peace.” Thanks for that. Wikipedia is a bit more helpful. (And, by the way, I’m using these sources not because they’re great sources, but because this is where most folks are going to go in a pinch.) From Wikipedia, we learn that shalom is more than just an absence of conflict. It conveys a sense of wholeness and completeness. It is the feeling that things are right. It is the emotional and spiritual ability to proclaim, “it is well with my soul” as Horatio Spafford once did when sailing over the spot where a ship carrying all four of his daughters was lost at sea, sparing only his wife. This is the peace of which Jesus is the prince.
Okay, but what does this mean for us?
Jesus is still the one who brings such peace to our lives even as He will one day bring it to the world at large. What we hope for as we prepare for the Advent of Jesus into our lives is an experience of this peace, this shalom. Actually, we don’t seek merely an experience of it, but rather we seek this peace as a permanent reality. What we long for is not merely a life that is devoid of conflict, but is filled with a sense of wholeness in spite of the conflicts we may be facing.
You see, that’s the thing about the peace Jesus brings: Like the hope we talked about last week, it is not a circumstantially-dependent reality. Rather, it is something that comes and stays regardless of what our current situation might be. There may be a storm raging outside the walls of our life, but we have an abiding sense of calmness and tranquility. We have this because we know we are in the hands of a God who is bigger than whatever storm we might be facing. He is the master of the wind and the waves. He can stop the storm, yes, but even if He doesn’t, if we are in His hands, we are secure and can be at peace.
This sounds like a good thing, yes? Especially this year. This has been a year of chaos and conflict. It feels sometimes like everything that could have gone wrong has. How could things get worse? The hits just keep coming. And if you thought things would start to settle as we reach the end of the year, they’ve charged up again and are threatening to get worse than ever as if to remind us that it’s not over yet. Peace seems to be the furthest thing from reality and yet that is exactly what we have in Christ–peace that doesn’t depend on our circumstances. No matter how hard your reality is right now, there is a peace available to you that will last even if things get harder still. This is the peace of the kingdom of God.
As we prepare to dig more into this peace this week, pray this morning for a fresh experience of it; for a fresh experience of the God who offers it through His Son. And, join me tomorrow as we go deeper into just what this peace is and what it looks like in our lives. See you then.