For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
—Isaiah 9:6-7, NRSV
Isaiah wrote this passage centuries before Jesus walked the earth. He was waiting expectantly for a king for Israel that would fulfill this image and restore the people of God to a place of security within the world. A king that would remove the hand of oppression, that would rule in peace and be a source of great joy.
Isaiah tells us of a promise that will be fulfilled. Though he expects to see the promise fulfilled in his lifetime, he is left waiting and faithfully pointing toward the truth. This is the same promise that we are waiting for as we move toward celebrating the birth of the Christ child. We stand on the other side of the nativity, and the other side of the cross and the empty tomb, and yet we still long for peace. Peace for the world, and peace within ourselves.
Jesus is the Prince of Peace.
The word “peace” in this passage from Isaiah is “shalom” in Hebrew. You can translate it to “peace,” but also as “completeness” or “welfare.”
When I think of completeness and welfare, I think of the garden of Eden in Genesis 1 & 2. I think of Adam and Eve walking with God in the cool of the day. I think of them naming and enjoying being with all of the newly created animals. I think of them existing with one another without shame. By chapter 3 of Genesis, we of course know that this communion is broken. Adam and Eve make a choice to disobey God and the peace of their world in the garden is no more. Even so, God does not abandon the people so carefully created in God’s image. The story of Scripture is the story of God reaching out to the people God created and loves. In the Old Testament, that often occurs through particular, chosen people. It happens through God providing laws that should be obeyed for the people’s own good. It happens through prophets being grieved by the state of their communities and God using them to call the people back to their Creator, the God who loves them. Isaiah is one of those prophets.
But most people don’t listen to the prophets. They don’t receive the truth and repent. They repeatedly turn away from God much like the first people in the garden did.
Even so, history moves along until just the right time; the time when God would come to earth as a man and usher in the Kingdom of God on earth. The time will come when Jesus will return and restore peace, completeness, welfare for all. Until then, we wait.
How we wait is important.
There are a number of passages in the New Testament that affirm Jesus is who Isaiah prophesied about. Luke 4 is one of these.
When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed that the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.
—Luke 4:16-30, NRSV
God loves the whole world, and in order for peace to extend to the whole world some things have to change. What is good news to the poor? Who are the captives? What will a restored world look like to the blind people who just received their sight? What oppression must cease so that people can go free?
It’s when we sit and consider these questions and consider how we can be a part of bringing peace now, that we begin to actually understand what peace is. Is peace God being close to us? Comforting us when there is death and destruction from natural disaster? Absolutely. But it is also more than that. We wait for the Christ child knowing that with him comes a new kingdom. A new way of existing in the world. A new way of treating our neighbor. A new way of treating our earth.
For those of us who enjoy a lot of comfort, a lot of wealth, a lot of power, this can feel uncomfortable. I must confess that there is an ugliness of sin within me that makes it very possible that I would be among the crowd rushing to push Jesus off the cliff. It can be uncomfortable to be reminded that the things I enjoy and take for granted every day—clean running water, plenty of food, an able body, a car, a job, white skin in a country where whiteness is held up as supreme—often come at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Advent is a time of waiting and watching, and as we do that we have the chance to invite the light of Christ to illuminate the areas where we are not people who love and prioritize peace.
We watch, we wait, we work for peace—first within ourselves. We can do this because Christ has come and if we follow him we too are full of the Holy Spirit. We continue to watch for the glimmers of peace right now in a world that often seems so dark. We can choose to move toward the light and let it change us. As we do, it is with hope that we wait and watch for the day when Christ will come again and restore us—and the world God created and loves—and we will enjoy fully what we now can see only dimly.
This post originally appeared on the Smyth & Helwys blog, Coracle; I invite you to explore their site and discover the many wonderful writers and thinkers that contribute there. You can read my original post here.