Old Testament Scripture: Isaiah 7:10–16
New Testament Scripture: Romans 1:1-7
Church, it’s the fourth Sunday of Advent—December 22nd—with Christmas just three days away. And I don’t feel particularly peaceful.
Not with the presents to buy and wrap,
the cleaning that needs done around the house,
the preparations still to make for our holiday travels,
the work that needs finishing before I can leave,
and the 47-bazillion little things that will certainly come up between now and then.
Is anybody else with me?
Yet I find there’s something ironic about the way our cultural celebration of Christmas parallels the life-giving message of the Advent season:
Just when we’re feeling the urge to give up, Advent calls us to hope.
Just when we’re at risk of despairing, Advent encourages the discovery of joy.
Just when we’re starting to see red in anger more than decor, Advent invites us into love.
Just when we’re feeling the time-crunch and everything is in chaos, Advent leads us towards peace.
For that I’m grateful.
This season, we’ve been reflecting on those identities of God that are revealed in Isaiah 9: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Parent, Prince of Peace.
Our consideration of God as “Wonderful Counselor” led us to reflect on whether we can trust God.
Reflecting on our “Mighty God” helped us consider how Jesus makes a difference in our life.
And then last week, we discovered how deeply our “everlasting parent” cares for us—working for our goodwill not just in the moment, but with the scope of eternity in mind.
Which brings us to today—and the last title that guides our reflection: Prince of Peace.
Overview of NT
The word “peace” appears 94 times in the New Revised Standard Version of the New Testament—96 in the NIV, 111 in the 400-year-old Authorized Version more commonly called the King James.
Before Jesus’ birth, peace was being anticipated by the prophecy of Zechariah, who spoke that his son (who we come to know as John the Baptist) would “prepare” the world for the coming of the Lord [Luke 1:76] by anticipating the Way of Jesus: giving light and “guiding our feet into the way of peace” [Luke 1:79].
When Jesus’ birth is announced to those shepherds, it is immortalized in those famous words that invoke “glory to God” and “peace on earth” [Luke 2:14]. These, after all, are the root purposes of the incarnation itself: to bring glory to God and ton reconcile all of creation to Godself.
Once Jesus begins teaching, he makes it clear that the peacemakers are the ones who really look like our Everlasting Parent [Matthew 5:9]……who really resemble the DNA of one “born from above”…… and then Jesus goes on to embody such peacemaking in his life.
Repeatedly in the gospels, Jesus wishes peace upon others, though perhaps this happens most famously in John 14, when Jesus promises the coming of the Holy Spirit who will enable true peace—peace like the peace of Jesus—which will steady troubled hearts and drive out fear from our lives [John 14:27].
This theme of peace that began before Jesus’ birth continues after his death and resurrection. It is peace this is wished upon the disciples when he first appears to confirm Mary Magdalene’s incredible proclamation of resurrection [John 20:19b]. And it is peace with which Jesus commissions his followers thereafter [John 20:21-22].
The early church understood right away Jesus’ role as Prince of Peace, and so in Jesus’ name they continued to invoke and pursue peace in their communities and in the broader world.
In Acts 10, Peter will sum up the message of God with the phrase “preaching peace by Jesus Christ” [Acts 10:36].
We are fortunate enough to have several places preserved in the New Testament where the significance of this Prince of Peace is expanded upon theologically. Perhaps the most complete expression is found in Ephesians 2:
“For he [that is, Jesus] is our peace [isn’t that lovely?: “Jesus is our peace”]; in his flesh he has made both groups [Jew and Gentile] into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace” (Ephesians 2:14–15 NRSV).
The early church understood clearly that a central defining feature of the gospel of Jesus is that in Jesus, everything that divides us and hinders unity is rendered null and void. Gender doesn’t matter. Economics don’t matter. Ethnicity doesn’t matter. Status doesn’t matter [Galatians 3:28]. Even religion—per se—doesn’t matter, because Jesus didn’t come to start a new religion; Jesus came to reconcile the whole world to the God who made all things.
My own favorite scripture passage that describes this work of Jesus comes from Colossians 1. There we read:
“For in him [again, this is Jesus: “In Jesus”] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” (Colossians 1:19–20 NRSV)
Isn’t that wonderful?
What would this look like in life?
Now then…… If we rightly understand the work of this Prince of Peace to be the ruination of those structures and systems and ideologies that divide us from each other, what would it look like for our lives to be ruled by such a “Prince of Peace”?
Isn’t that a big question, and a simple one all at the same time?
It begins, I’m afraid, with the recognization that we are deeply divided against others in this world…… that there are many we care little about, and even some that we wish harm upon.
If we allow the One who is the Truth to lead us down this path of seeing ourselves truly, we will undoubtedly learn that many of the reasons we care so little for others is because we have implicit and explicit biases against people who are different than us:
we are male and they are female,
we are white and they are brown,
we speak English and they speak Spanish,
we worship in churches and they in mosques,
we have forgotten our family’s story of immigration and they are living a fearful flight from violence,
the list goes on and on.
What would our lives look like if they were ruled by the Prince of Peace who tears down all such dividing walls in our world? It must certainly involve the purging of such inhumanity in us that fails to recognize the humanity in the other.
In fact, I think that Paul was trying to answer the same question in 2Corinthians 5, when he talks about the ministry entrusted to all followers of Jesus. He writes:
“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (2Corinthians 5:17–20 NRSV)
What does God want for me/creation?
The beauty of this passage is that it also addresses the other big question that reflection on the Prince of Peace elicits in our minds: What does God want for me and for creation?
God wants to see you reconciled—to God, to others, and to yourself.
God desires healing for your brokenness.
God desires wholeness where you feel divided.
God desires you to be completely and authentically you—
—and so truly you that you feel no threat from another.
So truly you that you can see apart from the biases and prejudices that we so ignorantly wield against others.
So truly you that you can rejoice in the goodness that others experience.
So truly you that you enable others to be truly themselves as well.
That’s when we really become a force of reconciliation in this world.
That’s when we know the Prince of Peace truly rules our life.