Blessed are the Peacemakers (part 6 of 9) – Isaiah 11:1-10; Isaiah 9:6

Last week we began Advent with the prophet Isaiah telling us that when God comes there will be light.  Isaiah 2 told us that when the world comes to God’s house of worship they will be taught God’s ways and how to walk in them.   Then God will bring justice to people.  And the result of walking in God’s ways and justice in the world will be peace.  We read: (2:4) “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.  Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”  We immediately sense that here Isaiah was talking about the political definition of peace – no war.

Isaiah 9:6 points us to Advent and Christmas: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  Just listening to that makes us aware that the Hebrew word SHALOM – Peace – means more than the absence of war.  SHALOM is one of those rich, deep words that carries with it a whole atmosphere of meaning.  Beyond the lack of war it is about physical and emotional reconciliation, a healing of whatever caused the conflict.  It is about a state of personal peace with God and neighbor and environment.  SHALOM carries a sense of well-being, safety, wholeness, prosperity and contentment that together make up a quality of life in the presence of God. When God comes he is the PRINCE OF PEACE who tares down the walls of hostility among people and between people and God.  This is a great deal more than the absence of war – this is a quality of life and relationships.  Ephesians 2:14-17 says:

“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.

            The Apostle Paul sees the uniting of all peoples—even the great division between Jews and Gentiles — in Christ – one new humanity.  In Acts 10:36 Peter said, “You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.”  In Galatians 5:22 we are told that peace is a fruit of the Spirit – the result of the Spirit of God living among us.

How do we talk about peace?  I am reminded of the elderly man who saw his six and seven year old grandchildren playing, and asked, “What are you playing?”

“War” responded the children

“Why don’t you play peace instead,” said the grandfather.

The children stopped, put their heads together, discussed something among themselves, then looked puzzled and finally ran out of words.  One of them went to the elderly man and asked, “Grandpa, how do we play peace?  We don’t know the game.”  It sometimes feels that is true of our world.  We’ve been at war so much we don’t even know how to play peace.  When God comes there will be peace.

The more one reads the prophet Isaiah the more we are impressed with the beauty of his writing and the power of his word pictures.  We begin with the picture of a stump – a tree that had been cut down with the stump looking dead like the tree.  Then out of that stump a green shoot comes from the side.  This was Isaiah’s way of saying that the line of David which was the promised line of the Messiah looked finished.  It all looked hopeless.  Ahaz was the king of Judah.  They were under attack from Aram and Israel.  Isaiah’s description in chapter 7 went this way, “Now the house of David was told, Aram (Damascus) had allied itself with Ephraim (Israel); so the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind.”  The prophet just cannot resist piling one image on another.

Then Isaiah was sent to Ahaz with this message: “Be careful, keep calm, and don’t be afraid.  Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood – because of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and of the son of Remaliah.”  He goes on to say that they are planning the overthrow of Judah, but this is the word from the Lord.  “It will not take place, it will not happen,…”  Both are going to eventually be destroyed, but here is the warning: “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.” (Isaiah 7:9)  In short Ahaz decided to trust in Assyria for help rather than to trust in God.  He was unfaithful to God, and worshiped the gods of Damascus (2 Chronicles 28).  It looked to Isaiah like the line of David was in trouble, but he sees a shoot coming out of the stump.

This is the promised Prince of Peace.  This is the One who will be filled with the Spirit of the Lord – the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, of counsel and of power, of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.  “He will delight in the fear (or worship) of the Lord.”  Again, we see the same sequence we saw in Isaiah 2.  He will come with the knowledge of the Lord and in justice.  The Lord’s ways and justice come together to create peace.  Isaiah paints the picture of the peaceable kingdom, using the animal kingdom to symbolize the kingdom of God.

The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling[
a] together;
and a little child will lead them.
7 The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
8 The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
9 They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.

As we read it and see the beauty we can feel the nature of SHALOM: contentment, reconciliation, well-being, wholeness, love, prosperity, peace.  Where does this come from?  “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”  These weeks of Advent are all about anticipating the coming of the kingdom of God.  That nature scene, the peaceable kingdom, symbolizes what we yearn to have life be like.  It is a symbolic picture of SHALOM.

So how does all of this fit with our Advent anticipation, with our looking forward to God coming to us in Jesus Christ.  We don’t have to look around very far to see that our world does not look like SHALOM, like the Peaceable Kingdom?  How does it all fit?  Let’s back up and look at the big picture.   From the entrance of rebellion and sin in the world in Genesis 3 on through history we see the development of conflict, broken relationships, unfaithfulness in covenant commitments with God and others, hatred, war, racism, stereotyping people, enslavement, sexual exploitation, genocide, on and on.  But through it all God moved to develop a remnant of faithful believers to bring the Prince of Peace to the world in the fullness of time.  God began building a kingdom, not a political kingdom of power and control and politics, but a spiritual kingdom in the hearts and lives of people that would eventually make political kingdoms look insignificant.  Then he sent his Son to redeem people for himself so that God’s Spirit could live in them – continuing to build that kingdom.  Through his incarnation, teaching, loving, suffering and death Jesus demonstrated the ways of God, Jesus bought justice for us by taking on our punishment, Jesus mediated a new relationship with God for us, Jesus gave us the resources to have new relationships of grace with ourselves and each other, and Jesus laid the cornerstone of the kingdom of God.   He is the Prince of Peace.  We celebrate his being with us in this time of worship.  We celebrate his coming at Christmas.

But that is not all, because even when we sing the songs and celebrate the wonder of God coming to us incarnate in Jesus, yet we feel the brokenness in ourselves and our world, yet we long for the peaceable kingdom.  Our experience is still too broken, too anxious, too distant, too suspicious, too fearful, to empty, too lonely, and too conflicted.  There has to be more.  And there is.  The foundation has been laid.  God is building this kingdom in the hearts and lives of his people and in his glorious preparation for a wonderful future.  The peaceable kingdom is under construction.  And guess who God is calling to build some of the pieces of his glorious peaceable kingdom of people.  Right.  You.  Me.  In Matthew 5:9 Jesus said, “Blessed (happy, fulfilled, joyful, contented) are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.”  The Apostle Paul picks up the teaching of the beatitudes as through him the Holy Spirit instructs us on how to live to be peacemakers who are God’s kingdom builders.  Romans 12:14-21

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not think you are superior.

 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

             As I was reflecting on all of this I was imagining a conversation with Jesus, asking him what he would like us to do in remembrance of his birthday, of his coming as the PRINCE OF PEACE.  The following thoughts came in quick succession.  I think Jesus would say:

  1. Instead of writing protest letter objecting to the way my birthday is being celebrated, write letters of love and hope to soldiers away from home.  They are terribly afraid and lonely this time of year.  I know, they tell me all the time.
  2. Visit someone in a nursing home.  You don’t have to know them personally.  They just need to know that someone cares about them.
  3. Instead of writing to the President complaining or reading racist emails, why don’t you write and tell him that you’ll be praying for him and his family this year.
  4. Instead of giving your children a lot of gifts you can’t afford and they don’t need, spend time with them.  Tell them the story of my birth, and why I came to live with you down here.  Hold them in your arms and remind them that I love them.
  5. Pick someone that has hurt you in the past and forgive him or her.
  6. Did you know that someone in your town will attempt to take their own life this season because they feel so alone and hopeless?  Since you don’t know who that person is, try giving everyone you meet a warm smile; be patient with people; it could make a difference.
  7. Be patient and encouraging to people when your are shopping this holiday.
  8. Maybe you could give some gifts to people who aren’t going to get any.
  9. Act in secret the same way you act in public related to being a Christian.  Let people know by your consistent actions that you are one of mine.

I am sure you could imagine him adding more to the list.  The question we face this Advent Season as we anticipate God coming to us is this:  how are we peacemakers, builders in the peaceable kingdom of God?  Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God.