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He Shall Be Called: Prince of Peace

12.17.23


One of my favorite traditions within the Christmas season are the Christmas cards. A mailbox full of cards and pictures of the people you love, it’s just the best. A few years ago, a buddy of mine that I graduated high school with, sent out this Christmas card of their 1 month old son. The card, which is behind me, read, “Silent Night, Yeah Right.” Pretty good, huh? So joyful and yet so wonderfully honest.  


Today we’re going to continue and wrap up our Advent Sermon Series on the Messianic names of Jesus from Isaiah 9, that he shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. And this morning we’ll conclude with the fourth and final one, that he shall be called Prince of Peace. 


And the promise of peace is central to both our scripture here in Isaiah as well as the Christmas story itself, where on the night he was born, the angels sang these words:  


“Glory to God in the highest

and on earth peace to those whom his favor rests” 


And yet, in the midst of all of this, we feel this tension, this cognitive dissonance from time to time within our own hearts and minds, where like my friends years ago, we look at the busyness and chaos of our own lives and think to ourselves, “Silent night, yeah right.” Or we follow the news and see a world full of war and strife, one that is “seldom calm, and maybe sometimes bright.” 


And so we might ask, what do we do with the fact that Jesus, the Prince of Peace, arrived with the promise of peace and yet we live in a world that often feels anything but? 


The answer lies in properly understanding what kind of peace this Prince of Peace brings. So, let’s explore this one together, working through both our Isaiah passage and Luke passage and the biblical story in between. We’ll reflect on this idea of peace that our Prince of Peace brings, by considering …   


What it isn’t, what it is, what it looks like


What it isn’t 


When you and I hear the word peace, we often think of it in terms of silence or the absence of conflict. For example, when the kids are finally down for bed, the toys have been put away, the kids are no longer fighting, as a quiet hush fills the air, we might say there is “peace on earth, peace in this home.” Or as I heard one pastor parent once say, “Dessert always tastes best when the kids are in bed.”


And yet, when the bible uses the word peace, for example with the Hebrew word shalom as used here in Isaiah 9, it is describing something far more than simply the absence of conflict or war, or the absence of something negative. It’s describing something positive, with a much more substantial meaning of peace that means wholeness, completeness, right relatedness.


And here’s what’s interesting; when Isaiah writes this passage here in Isaiah 9, he is writing to a people who are experiencing neither kind of peace.


He’s writing to people who are walking in darkness … Isaiah shares that the Assyrians are being sent by God to judge and destroy the city. They are soon headed for exile, many of their people will be killed, their temple decimated, their city destroyed, sent away to be an oppressed people in a foreign land. They are without the “absence of conflict” kind of peace, for there is chaos and conflict, war and violence all around them. 


And yet, they’re also lacking the richer, biblical kind of peace, their lacking shalom as well. They’re far from God, distant from him. In fact, it’s their disobedience and rebellion from God that has led to their exile. And so, God’s presence is no longer with them, or it is at least a distant shadow of what it was before. 


And even years later, when God’s people would return to Jerusalem to reclaim their land and rebuild their temple, even when there was no war or violence, chaos or conflict in sight, the people were still without peace. For though their temple was rebuilt, God’s presence had not returned. 


So as we make our first turn here, notice the relationship between peace and presence. It was true in Old Testament times and it’s true to this day: 


While you can have peace in the presence of conflict, biblically speaking you can’t have peace without the presence of God. 


Isn’t that true? Life in many ways can be perfect, good health, strong relationships, financially sound, succeeding professionally, and yet peace feels elusive, we feel incomplete, like something’s missing apart from God. 


This is what the early church father Augustine was putting his finger on when he once said, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”


And yet, at the same time, many of you know this firsthand, life can throw you storm after storm, a troubling diagnosis, relationships falling apart, trying to scrape by, and yet there’s peace within, because you know that God is with you. 


And speaking of the presence of God, the presence of God is coming, this time in the person of Jesus Christ. 


“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.” And “of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.”


Having considered what peace isn’t, let’s now more fully consider what kind of peace we’re talking about here, more specifically what kind of peace our Prince of Peace came to bring. 


To do so, let’s revisit that classic scene in the Christmas story where the angels burst out in song, proclaiming, 


“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”


Chances are, growing up, you learned that verse a little differently, something more along the lines of, 


“Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth, goodwill to men/all”


That’s how the King James translates it and that’s how just about every one of our Christmas carols capture that verse, after all, it’s a heck of a lot easier to sing. 


And yet, it sets us up for a massive misunderstanding as for the kind of peace Jesus came to bring, because the general idea of “peace on earth” sets us up for an “absence of conflict” kind of peace, a kind of “all is right, all is calm, all is bright with the world” kind of peace, where there’s are no natural disasters, war, illness, injustice, persecution, or the like.  


And yet, notice how our pew bibles translate this promise. It’s way more clunky, almost impossible to sing, but it’s far more accurate: 


“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”


Notice a couple of the crucial differences.


First, it’s not a blanket, general kind of peace, it’s specific. In other words, it’s not experienced by all, but rather by some. 


Now, that may sound off-putting, as if we as Christians think we’re better than others. Well, hang on. Notice the other difference. 


And that is, this peace is received, not achieved. This is crucial to understanding the gospel message, and Jesus’s promise of peace.


Notice it doesn’t say, “peace to those who are better than the rest” or even “peace to those who have tried their best”, but rather, “peace those on whom his favor rests.” 


This is something that God gives that we experience. It’s received, not achieved. It is a gift from God. 


It’s a wholeness, completeness, right relatedness, it’s in wayward sinners receiving peace and  reconciliation with God. 


Or as one Christmas carol puts it beautifully, “peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.”


As we noted a couple weeks ago when we reflected on the name Mighty God, the way in which Jesus fulfilled this Old Testament prophecy in bringing peace from Isaiah 9 must have shocked the Jewish people of Jesus’s day. For they anticipated that Jesus would bring peace by defeating their enemies, specifically the Romans, the political power of the day, in the same way that Americans might have said there was peace on earth after defeating their enemies during WWII. 


And yet, in a stunning turn of events, Jesus came to bring peace by defeating an enemy far more powerful and pervasive than the Romans, this time by defeating the powers of evil and the sinfulness of the human heart through his death and resurrection. 


And friends, if you reach out in faith, and believe that indeed is what Jesus came to do, then you too can receive this gift of peace. A peace in the sense of rest and identity and security. A deeper, inner peace that’s found when we are rightly oriented to the one who created you and me. A peace that doesn’t promise protection from the struggles and suffering of our world, but rather a peace that promises a presence, the presence of God himself, his Holy Spirit, in the midst of the struggles and suffering of our world.

 

And it’s when we receive this kind of peace, when we are transformed by the inside out, that we can be peacemakers ourselves, together looking ahead to that second Advent, when the God who came and dwelt among us will one day come again, to bring his perfect peace, and a world truly filled with his shalom, once and for all. 


And in a beautiful bit of symmetry, the one who would one day be called the Prince of Peace, would one day say to his disciples, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” The one who was given the name of peace, will give us a new name too. 


“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”


We’ve looked at what this peace isn’t, what it is, let’s move now to our third and final part, practically speaking, what does this peace look like in the ordinary lives of actual people? What does this kind of peace look like in the face of death or divorce, disease or disaster, or whatever else? 


Well, we’re going to do something a little different this morning. In a way, I’m going to have someone else give the final part of this sermon. 


As a number of you saw on Facebook not too long ago, I’ve been exploring this idea of what I’ve been calling “Immanuel Stories” – stories from within our congregation, people who might be willing to share stories of Immanuel moments, “God with them” in their lives. And before I even had a name for this thing, the first person I immediately thought of was Cindy Coad. Cindy, will you come on up here? 


As many of you know, Cindy’s husband Ed passed away at the end of October and I asked Cindy if she’d be willing to share how the Lord’s been at work in her life over these last six, seven weeks or so and she graciously agreed. 


And so Cindy, I’m so grateful for your willingness to share with our congregation today and eager for them to hear what you shared with me the other day, I’ll let you take it from here. 


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