Baby Jesus: The Prince of Peace (Christmas Eve)
Christmas Eve (I) - December 24, 2017
Arts and music are really important to us here at St. Matthew's. We meet God through a variety of artistic expressions (including Rachael & Olivia Jones' beautiful dance performance "Mary, Did You Know?" tonight). The following song helps us understand our reading from the book of Isaiah.
Isaiah 9:2-7 (CEB)
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. On those living in a pitch-dark land, light has dawned. You have made the nation great; you have increased its joy. They rejoiced before you as with joy at the harvest, as those who divide plunder rejoice. As on the day of Midian, you’ve shattered the yoke that burdened them, the staff on their shoulders, and the rod of their oppressor. Because every boot of the thundering warriors, and every garment rolled in blood will be burned, fuel for the fire. A child is born to us, a son is given to us, and authority will be on his shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be vast authority and endless peace for David’s throne and for his kingdom, establishing and sustaining it with justice and righteousness now and forever.
“Baby Son” by John Mark McMillan
We thought you'd come with a crown of gold
A string of pearls and a cashmere robe
We thought you'd clinch an iron fist
And rain like fire on the politics
But without a sword, no armored guard
But common born in mother's arms
The government now rests upon
The shoulders of this baby son
Have you no room inside your heart
The inn is full, the out is dark
Upon profane shines sacred sun
Not ashamed to be one of us
Christ the Lord
We've longed for you
This song interprets Isaiah for us in a way that is helpful this Christmas. In the years leading up to Jesus’ birth, many people in Israel felt lost and confused about their political and social situation. For many centuries, Israel had not been an independent nation. They were conquered people, ruled by the Roman Empire in the first century. Many people read prophecies like this in Isaiah, and thought that God was going to send them a Savior who would liberate the people from bondage.
The “great light” they expected was a valiant warrior who would rally the tribes of Israel together and overthrow the Romans, Greeks, and anyone else who got in their way. A part of Isaiah’s prophecy seems to point this way: “As on the day of Midian, you’ve shattered the yoke that burdened them, the staff on their shoulders, and the rod of their oppressor.” The day of Midian is a reference to the story of Gideon in the book of Judges. Midian was a neighboring kingdom who had briefly conquered Israel, and subjugated the people. Gideon was a warrior-judge who led the people of Israel into battle against the Midianites. Gideon defeated the Midianite army and slaughtered the kings of Midian.
It was violent and brutal. And Isaiah seems to envision God acting in a similar way with the new Messiah. Save us from the Romans; send us a Savior who will break their iron rod. We might similarly cry, “Save us from the bonds of racism and police brutality; punish those who wrong us.” Or as we consider the live possibility of new wars, “Save us from the North Koreans and the Russians; destroy those who would destroy us with weapons of mass destruction.”
In each case, the first part of the prayer is good. We shouldn’t be satisfied with suffering, pain, and oppression. Pray against racism and brutality; pray against war. But the solution we offer to God is no good.
The problem with that mentality, both in Isaiah’s day and in our own, is that violence always leads to more violence. Wars, guns, and bombs create orphans and leaders who want revenge. Revenge spirals into more war and worse violence. Advanced military technology makes these threats increasingly dangerous to the whole planet.
And so Isaiah’s prayer in verse 4-5 seems misguided. God chooses not to respond to our suffering with further violence and punishment. (There will be a day of judgment, but God does not bring it upon us now; that’s a topic for a different sermon). But nonetheless, the Holy Spirit does speak through Isaiah. His next prayer does come true.
Instead breaking the oppressor’s rod, God sent a child. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isa 9:6, RSV).
Jesus is born, but not as an earthly prince. He’s not raised in a palace. He doesn’t seem special and he isn’t very privileged. He is common-born to a poor mother and father, and his birth was wrapped in scandal.
And as an adult, Jesus does not preach rebellion and revolution in the conventional, military manner. Jesus lives a life of peace. He subverts the expectations of many faithful Jews by teaching us to love both our enemies. He forces us to look at our friends, neighbors, enemies, and even ourselves, and name them all as “loved by God.”
The Good News that arrives with us this evening is that the fate of the world does not rest in the hands of presidents, tyrants, senators, generals, kings, or bureaucrats. The fate of the world rests on the shoulders of our newborn Prince of Peace. Maybe we didn’t know we were longing for this kind of Messiah, but Jesus is precisely the kind of Savior we always needed.
He breaks the cycles of violence, war, and death, and saves us from sin by giving us new life. He makes us citizens of God’s Kingdom, where “Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev 21:4, CEB).
Jesus, even as a baby, shows us that God is Love, God is Peace. God’s ways are higher than our ways, and God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts. They are higher because hey are more merciful and more kind than anything we can ever ask or imagine. For that, let us rejoice. The Savior of the World is good. Jesus loves us. And nothing we can do can change that.
Gloria! Allelu! Christ the Lord, we’ve longed for you!
Gloria! Alllelu! Christ the Lord, we’ve longed for you!
Questions for Further Reflection:
· What did many in Israel expect the Messiah would do?
· How did Jesus challenge their expectations?
· What does it mean for Jesus, the Savior of the world, to be the Prince of Peace? How should we, the Church, respond?