by Interim Pastor Doug Marshall
O come, Desire of nations, bind All peoples in one heart and mind;
Bid envy, strife, and discord cease; Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
The Presbyterian Hymnal #9, v3
Jesus: Prince of Peace
- Family Circus: Dolly and PJ are standing in front of a stained glass window with an angel in it. Dolly tells PJ, “His name is Harold.” “Hark the Harold angel sing.”
- Calvin and Hobbes: Calvin comments that there are only a few days left until Christmas. He says “What better way to celebrate a religious holiday than with a month of frenzied consumerism… Getting loads of loot is a very spiritual experience for me.”
- B.C. is one of my favorites. Johnny Hart, who writes B.C. is a Christian. He wrote a poem about Christmas:
That man has had no trouble at all believing that he can be God.
How he would do this I cannot conceive, tho he certainly think that he can –
And yet, he cannot bring himself to believe, that God can become… a man.
Several years ago a comic strip caught my attention. It was a comic called “Shoe.” In the first panel Santa is carrying his bag of toys toward the sleigh. One of the reindeer asks him a question. “So what’s our featured gift this year, Mr. C?” Santa responds, “It’s a simple thing, really. It seems to be on everyone’s list again, so I thought I’d give it a try.” In the third panel Santa has a weary look on his face. “Of course… no one knows how to take care of it, so it’ll break as soon as I deliver it.” With a disgusted look on his face, the reindeer asks what the present is. “What, is this another lousy toy made in Cheapville?” Santa responds, “No, it’s peace on earth.”
I don’t know what the gift looked like that Santa was going to give, but most of us would put peace near the top of our wish list. We long for peace, peace for the world or even peace for our own lives. Yet, so often our lives and our world don’t have peace.
Think of some of the main headlines from this past year. Aleppo has been in the news all year, hundreds, maybe thousands of people killed. In June there was massacre at the Pulse nightclub down in Orlando, Florida. In July twelve police officers were shot in Dallas. Five of them died. This last week we heard about the truck that ran into the Christmas market in Berlin, killing at least a dozen people. The Russian ambassador was killed in Turkey and a suicide bomber killed forty eight people in Yemen. On and on the list goes. On top of that many of us have our own stories that never make the news, but they remind us that we don’t have peace: the death of loved ones, people getting sick or having surgery, fears about our jobs or the economy. We need peace. Friends, I have good news for you tonight. The Prince of Peace has come.
One of the great Biblical words is the Hebrew word for peace – shalom. Shalom is a word that is still used today in Israel, as a greeting or a way of saying goodbye to someone. It is a blessing that people give to one another. Shalom certainly includes the absence of war or violence, but it is so much more. Shalom is wholeness, or completeness. It means harmony, prosperity and security for all people. Peace involves health and righteousness and truth. Shalom includes having wonderful relationships with other people and with God. Essentially, Shalom means the same thing as salvation.
The prophet Isaiah wrote at a time when the people of Israel desperately needed peace. There was a darkness that filled the hearts of God’s people. The Assyrian empire was growing in power. They had destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel and were threatening the southern kingdom of Judah. Judah’s kings were weak and sinful. Into that darkness Isaiah brought a message of hope. “The people who live in darkness have seen a great light… A child has been born to us, a son. He is called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:2, 6).
This child will be the Messiah, a king. He will have the power to bring peace into this world and into our lives. About 700 years after Isaiah wrote his words, the angels proclaimed to the shepherd’s that Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled in the birth of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to all his people” (Luke 2:14).
We all get glimpses of peace at times, experiences that point to the true peace that comes from God. Let me share with you an image. It happened almost 24 years ago. It was on a Thursday morning. It was one of those weeks where I was swamped. On top of a sermon that I needed to finish I had a funeral to plan, a Sunday school lesson to get ready and several other tasks. I had gotten up early to do some work and Tanya had just gone out for a walk. I was just starting to get in to my work when Alli, my youngest daughter, woke up. She was about 3 or 4 months old and had not been feeling good. I ran up the stairs, grabbed her out of the crib and took her downstairs. I didn’t want her to wake up the other two kids. I thought that maybe I could get some work done while I held her – Not a chance! She started with a bit of a whimper and built up into a full-blown scream.
lly against my chest, and she continued to relax. Eventually she went limp and fell asleep, a dead weight in my arms. There was no way I was going to move and chance waking her up, so I sat there and simply enjoyed holding her. There is nothing like holding a sleeping infant. A peace came over me that changed my attitude for the whole day. 2000 years ago another infant was born that brings us peace, not for a few moments or a day, but for eternity. Jesus is our Prince of Peace.
One caution for us. We all have images of what we think peace will look like for our lives. Maybe it’s holding a child or a grandchild. Maybe it’s having more than enough money so you don’t have to worry or having a job that you enjoy and pays enough to pay the bills. Maybe it’s getting all the housework done and all the tasks marked off your list. There are endless images of what peace might look like and that is okay.
However, the peace that Jesus brings us, the peace we long for, will probably look far different than we expect. No one expected the Messiah, the one who would save Israel, the Prince of Peace, to be a little baby, born to an insignificant family in an out of the way place. They expected a king to ride in on his horse, with an army behind him. Instead, Jesus rode in on a donkey and ended up on a cross. That certainly wasn’t expected. Jesus surprises us by who he is and what he does.
Stuart Briscoe was raised in England during WWII. He describes what life was like during that time. They had rationing. From the age of 9-15 he never heard the church bells ring, because the bells ringing was a signal of the expected invasion by the Nazis. People didn’t want to hear the bells. They had blackouts, no streetlights, much less the Christmas lights that we have today. People hung black clothes over their windows and doors so no light escaped.
One night he was awakened from his sleep by the ringing of the church bells. He jumped out of bed, peaked out his window and saw an astounding sight. Street lights were on. People had their windows open, letting light stream out into the night sky. People were dancing and singing in the streets. He called to his father, “Dad, what’s going on. Why are the bells ringing?” He dad called back, “Peace has broken out all over the place!”
It was the end of WWII. Of course, that peace did not last, for true peace only comes from Jesus Christ. It is the peace announced on that midnight clear, 2000 years ago, when the angels sang, “Peace on earth, good will to all, from heaven’s all-gracious King.”
Most of our Christmas carols were written in Europe. They retell the Biblical story in poetic form. It Came Upon the Midnight Clear was written in Massachusetts, by an American pastor. It was written in 1849, a time when our country was not at peace. Slavery was tearing our country apart, leading toward the Civil War. The industrial revolution was creating chaos in the north. The gold rush had just started in California.
It Came Upon the Midnight Clear is a unique Christmas carol because it is one of the first to describe the world we live in, with all its turmoil. It describes a world that needs peace:
And ye, beneath life’s crushing load, whose forms are blending low,
Who toil along the climbing way With painful steps and slow.
Yet this is a positive song because it proclaims that in Jesus Christ peace has come into our world. Jesus is the Prince of Peace.