Good morning! If you have a Bible, I invite you to turn to Isaiah 9. And if you don’t have a Bible, there should be a Bible under the row of chairs in front of you. If you can grab a Bible, we are going to be in Isaiah 9.
Today is the third Sunday of Advent. And if you are unfamiliar with the concept of Advent, it’s simply the time of year, before Christmas, when we celebrate the first coming of Jesus, while we anticipate the second coming of Jesus. Advent gets us to reflect on Jesus’ first coming, while we expect Jesus’ second coming.
And the reason why it’s important for us to recognize Advent is because it gives us the opportunity to slow down and to realize that our story is more than just what we have going on at Christmas—our story finds itself in God’s story.
We can get so caught up in the Christmas season that we completely miss what Christmas is all about. We buy gifts and we do these various family activities and traditions, which are all good things, so long as we don’t miss the real meaning of Christmas.
Just this last week, Helena and I watched a good Christmas classic, A Charlie Brown Christmas. And the pivotal part of the movie is when Charlie Brown, who is frustrated with the commercialization of Christmas, laments: “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”
And his friend, Linus, famously responds by reciting Luke 2:8-14: “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: for, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’”
And Linus concludes, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
If we don’t have this perspective in view, then Christmas is whatever we make of it. But if Christmas is about the Saviour of the world who was born over 2,000 years ago, then everything is put in its proper place.
If the coming of Jesus to this world is really what Christmas is all about, then we buy gifts, not because we want to receive something in return, but because of the ultimate gift that was given to us. We do various family activities, because we want to spend time focusing on the birth of Christ with the ones we love.
Whatever our story is, wherever we are at in life, Advent reorients our hearts and our minds to the greater story that our story finds itself in.
Throughout Advent, we have been looking at these various themes. On the first Sunday of Advent, we saw how we can have a hope that is greater than our circumstances. On the second Sunday of Advent, we saw how we can have joy in the face of the curse that is on this world.
And this morning, we will see how we can have peace when there might be no sign of peace. This morning, we will see what the angels meant when they talked about peace on the earth.
The reality is: You turn on the news and things don’t seem very peaceful. There's violence and protests and natural disasters. And all of it causes us to ask the question, “What peace?” Because things don’t look very peaceful.
There are those wrestling with anxiety, how do they find peace? Or how about those with loved ones in the hospital, or those with a negative diagnosis, or those who are in the process of moving, or those who are financially strapped, where is their peace this time of year?
Maybe we have some interesting family dynamics that make things less than peaceful around Christmastime. Maybe we are worried that family won't come over to our house for Christmas dinner, or maybe we are worried that we won't be invited. Maybe we are anxious about how the food will turn out. Maybe we are concerned that someone won't like our gift. Maybe we are worried about the road conditions. Whatever it might be, maybe peace is eluding us.
And then, there are those who try to have an answer for peace. Maybe getting rid of God and religion will bring peace to the world, or maybe we just need to get rid of our defenses and then we will have peace.
We look at the pronouncement of the angels—that there is peace on earth with the birth of this child—and we marvel at it. But what does it actually mean for us, today? What does it mean for us, when we don’t think there is peace on earth?
Well, if you have your Bibles opened to Isaiah 9, let’s read verses 1-7, to find out: “But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. 2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. 3 You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. 4 For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. 5 For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. 6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.”
The prophet Isaiah is writing of a time in the future when the Messiah, the promised One of God, would come to establish everlasting peace on the earth. It sounds nice, doesn’t it? The Messiah would be the “Prince of Peace,” who would come to break all human oppression. It sounds like something we all want.
But the Hebrew word for peace, used in this passage, is shalom. And the way the word is used here is more than just this idea of an absence of conflict or war. In the Jewish mind, peace or shalom speaks of a completeness or fullness—to be entirely at peace with oneself.
I am not one for conflict. I don’t know if that’s just my Mennonite roots coming out, or what, but I get really uncomfortable when I am around conflict. I remember when Helena and I took this Conflict Management Style test, where you answer these questions and then you are assigned an animal that identifies with the conflict management style you are.
And so, we both took this test, and we found out that I was an accommodating teddy bear, which meant that I try to smooth over conflict to prevent damage to the relationship. Well, Helena was a forcing and competing shark, which meant that she will try to get opponents to accept her solution to the conflict.
And you can imagine what that looks like, right, with the teddy bear being torn to shreds by the shark. Helena’s not like that, don’t worry. But I would be at peace with no conflict because, for me, it means that the relationship is good.
But that’s not the way the Jews viewed peace. Peace is not the absence of conflict; it’s the presence of something else. Shalom was considered to be the way everything should be, but wasn’t. It was always something to be desired.
And in this passage, we are introduced to a prophecy that would make this desire a reality. And we find out why this passage would have mattered so much to the Jews of Isaiah’s day.
You see, as Isaiah is giving this prophecy of the events that were to come, the northern kingdom of Israel was being invaded. In 2 Kings 15:29, it says that Tiglath-pileser, king of Assyria, came and captured all the land of Naphtali, one of the tribes of Israel, and he carried the people captive to Assyria.
And why this is so significant is because Naphtali is the name of one of the tribes of Israel mentioned, in verse 1, who would experience anguish.
But Isaiah writes, in verse 2, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.”
And what Isaiah is saying is that God is not going to leave His people in anguish. God is going to come for them and will be their light in the darkness.
Right now, it’s dark and hopeless, but guess what? A Son will be given, and His name shall be called, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
And when the Prince of Peace comes, do you see what He will do? He will increase their joy and He will break their oppression and He will cast the battle attire into the fire. This is what the people of God were holding on to. They were waiting for the day when the Messiah would come to be their Prince of Peace.
Fast forward a few hundred years. The southern kingdom of Judah has since experienced its own exile. They were taken over by Babylon. And then, Babylon was taken over by the Medes and Persians. And then, the Medes and Persians were taken over by the Greeks. And then, the Greeks were taken over by Rome.
And when you get to the New Testament, the Jews are under Roman rule. They have gone from oppressor to oppressor to oppressor, and throughout all of this, they have held on to this promise that the Messiah is coming to bring peace.
And then, finally, verse 6 comes to pass: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.”
Now, I don’t want us to miss this: What kickstarts the fulfillment of this prophecy of peace is not what we do to get to God, it’s what God did to get to us.
John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son.” God gave His Child, His Son, to us. Don’t miss this. God didn’t just leave His people to figure it out on their own. He entered our space and He became like one of us, so that He could save us. It’s the good news of the gospel.
David Platt, pastor of McLean Bible Church in Washington DC, shared this illustration in a sermon I heard recently: He said that he was sitting outside a Buddhist temple in Indonesia, having a conversation with a Buddhist leader and a Muslim leader in this particular community.
And he said that these men were discussing how all religions are fundamentally the same and only superficially different. One of the men said, "We may have different views about small issues, but when it comes down to essential issues, each of our religions is the same."
He listened for a while, and then they asked him what he thought. And here is what he said: He said, "It sounds as though you both pictured God (or whatever you call God) at the top of a mountain. It seems as if you believe that we are all at the bottom of the mountain, and I may take one route up the mountain, you may take another, and in the end we will all end up in the same place."
They smiled and replied, "Exactly! You understand!"
Then he leaned in and said, "Now let me ask you a question. What would you think if I told you that the God at the top of the mountain actually came down to where we are? What would you think if I told you that God doesn't wait for people to find their way to him, but instead he comes to us?"
They thought for a moment and then responded, "That would be great." And he replied, "Let me introduce you to Jesus."
Church, let’s not forget the gospel in the Christmas story. The God at the top of the mountain did not leave us to find our way to Him. He came to us. And He came to us, as a baby in a grungy manger, in the days when peace seemed out of the picture.
In fact, right after Jesus was born, Herod, who was called the King of the Jews, had every child under two years of age, killed, because he couldn’t stand the thought of another potential king of the Jews out there.
Jesus is born into the midst of chaos and brokenness and unrest and death. He’s born into a time when everything is far from peaceful. And all the while, He is coming to us to bring us peace.
How can this child do this for us? What's so special about this baby? It’s because He’s God in the flesh. He’s the promised Messiah. He’s the one who would come to be our Prince of Peace.
So, now the question is: Where is this peace? We know that we all still struggle to find peace in this world, so where is it? What did Jesus come to bring? What does shalom look like now?
Turn over in your Bibles to Ephesians 2. The apostle Paul is writing to the church in Ephesus about who they are, and what they have received, in Christ. And we get to this section of Scripture, where Paul unpacks this idea of the peace that we desperately need.
In Ephesians 2:11-18, Paul writes, “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.”
Peace, shalom, is not the absence of conflict or war; it’s the presence of something else: Jesus.
What Jesus came to bring to mankind was peace with God. It’s what we needed most. What we needed most was not deliverance from physical oppression, but rather, deliverance from spiritual oppression. What we needed most was not the absence of conflict and war, but rather, the presence of God. That’s the peace we needed that Jesus came to bring.
The Jews didn’t understand that. They wanted a Messiah who would come to destroy their enemies: the Romans. But Jesus comes along and destroys the enemies that we needed to have destroyed: sin and death.
Jesus becomes our peace. And our faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ, as the payment for our sin, brings us peace with God. We are no longer enemies with God. We now have access freely to the Father, because of Jesus.
And though we still live in a world without peace, we have faith that no matter what circumstances we might encounter, God is faithful, God is good, God will keep you, God will never forsake you, and God is working all things for your good and His glory.
This is a faith that can survive in the hospital and in the cemetery and when the finances are depleted and when family dynamics get the better of you. This is a faith that relies on the promise that Jesus came to be our Prince of Peace.
And though everything in our world is screaming that peace is unachievable or that God and religion is destroying our peace, we know that it’s peace with God that we so desperately need and crave, because once we have peace with God, all other things are put in their proper place.
Something I have struggled with, at various points in my life, is anxiety. There have been numerous times when I have been brought to Philippians 4:6-7, which says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Now, it’s easy to say, “Don’t be anxious.” But it’s much harder to do. And I know for myself, it’s because I think that I shouldn’t struggle with anxiety.
It’s like, in order for me to be a good Christian, anxiety shouldn’t be an issue for me. But that’s not what God promises us. God doesn’t promise to take away our anxiety; He promises to be our peace when life gets to be too much. Though Jesus promised His followers that we would face hardship and persecution and betrayal, we can have faith that God is enough for us in all of it.
And how this ties in to Advent is that we can have faith that Jesus is coming again to completely wipe away the oppression and the unrest and the violence and the anxiety. Everlasting peace is not simply this ideal that mankind longs for, but it’s something that Christ is actually bringing to this world.
And that’s what Advent does. It gets us to celebrate the peace we have now, and it gets us to expect that God is going to bring it to completion when He returns.
When the angels announced the Saviour’s birth to the shepherds, saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased,” they were announcing the birth of the only One who could give us true peace in this life and in the next.
You can try and find peace in all that this life has to offer, but you will be disappointed, because you will be searching for something that has already come near to you in the Person of Jesus Christ.
This Christmas, if you have not done so already, will you receive that peace with God that can only be found through Jesus? It’s nothing we did or could ever do ourselves, it’s what has been done for us.
Right now, you might feel like everything is dark and hopeless, but maybe today is the day that you put your faith in Jesus and allow Him to be your light in the darkness. Maybe today is the day that Jesus becomes your peace with God.
Until we grab hold of this peace, we will always be anxious—anxious about where we are headed when we die, anxious about where our next meal is going to come from, anxious about what Christmas will be like, this year.
But when Jesus is your peace, there is a confidence that you can have in the face of uncertainty. It doesn’t take away the uncertainty, but it gives you the confidence that, no matter what you face in this life, God will forever be your peace. And He will fight for you, and He will be enough for you, because He is your peace when there might otherwise be no sign of peace. Let’s pray…