Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas Lights: The Kingdom of Peace

Preached Sunday, December 26
Scripture readings:
Isaiah 9:1-7; Hebrews 1:1-14; Luke 2:8-14

The message the angels gave to the shepherds, in the rangelands above Bethlehem, was about the birth of a new king who would cause a new world to be born. It was revolutionary news.

To the shepherds, and anyone who heard their report, the words of the angels meant that the world order and God’s order were about to collide, and the world order was going down. This is what it would have meant to them, when the angels said, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11) The Christ was a royal title: messiah, king. They understood this to mean that, in a few years’ time, a leader would rise to the attention of the people of Israel and lead them in a confrontation against Rome and the other great powers of the world, and defeat those powers.

Jerusalem would become the imperial city of the world; the seat of world government. The nations would pay tribute and taxes, and support that government. The people of Israel would be free to worship as God intended, and follow God’s laws without distraction and without the competition and the corrupting influences of alien cultures. The Christ, the Messiah, would see to this, when he grew up to fight his battles and win his wars.

This is what they thought. This is what they thought when the read Isaiah’s words. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be upon his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6) A new world government in Jerusalem: this is what almost every one of the people of Israel thought these words were about.

The problem came when the baby grew up, and thought differently than almost everyone else did. He understood those words differently. He put the accent on a different place, on a different word, and came out with a meaning and purpose that surprised everyone.

Jesus took the accent off the word government and put the accent on the word peace. Didn’t the angels, themselves, call the baby king the bringer of “peace on earth”?
I want us to think about having an intense interest in peace; in being bringers of the Lord’s peace. In the gospels, we don’t hear Jesus using the word peace very often. In fact, he sometimes denied that he had come to bring peace at all (Matthew 10:34). Jesus always found a way to disrupt the peace of people who he thought were unworthy of it (Matthew 21:12-16).

But Jesus did use the word peace in important ways, and he brought peace to the people who needed it most. In the Gospel of John, Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27) And Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Notice that Jesus said, “I have overcome the world.” These are a king’s words. Jesus was saying something about his type of government but, in the same breath, he was also talking about his cross. He was saying these things as he waited for his capture, and arrest, and crucifixion. He didn’t want his friends to be completely undone by the horrible things that were about to happen.

The story of the gospel: the birth and life of Jesus; the death and resurrection of Jesus; describes his power as king. They are the actual weapons of his kingdom. They are the way his kingdom functions. They are his law that works in every person who belongs to his kingdom. The birth and life of Jesus; the death and resurrection of Jesus; are his way of governing you, and teaching you, and shaping your life and your commitments and relationships.

Jesus was also talking about his death (about the action of his being nailed to the cross, and that cross or that cross piece being lifted into place, and the people at the foot of the cross looking up at him dying there) when he said, “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32-33) His cross was his government drawing all people into his orbit.

This is his kingdom. This is part of what Isaiah meant when he said, “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing it and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.” (Isaiah 9:7)

The justice and righteousness of the kingdom of God are the gift of Jesus in the work he has done for us. Jesus was born in Bethlehem to stand in for us in his humanity, in his life, in his death, in his resurrection. He carried our life in his. Our lives are contained in his life and everything he did.

The justice and righteousness of the child who has been born for us are the humility and mercy of God coming down in Jesus to rule in our favor. His justice and righteousness consisted of taking our sins and our old way of life, taking the world’s way of working, onto the cross in order to take it from us. His dying for the sins of the world is his way of overcoming the world. This is the key to the role of Jesus as Prince of Peace. Everything that Jesus is, and everything that Jesus does, is about peace.

But the peace is not just peace in our heart. And it is not only peace between us and God. The Prince of Peace rules a kingdom that is governed by the same laws that are at work in Jesus himself. If Jesus is our king, if we belong to his kingdom, then the law of peace will operate through us, in our lives.

If the Lord wants to give peace to the members of our family, and peace to our neighbors, and peace to our community, and peace to our world, then the laws of the Prince of Peace are going to reach out through us in order to give God’s peace to them. What God gives us in Christ, God seeks to give through us in Christ. Peace, as the Bible conceives it, is interactive.

The world around you needs you just as much as it needs God, because the kingdom of God is within you, as Jesus said. (Luke 17:12) The kingdom of God within you means that you are ruled by God. You are needed because the people around you, and the world you live in, needs people who are ruled by God. They need people who can be counted on; not just because of your talent, or imagination, or intelligence, or your creativity, but because, through Christ, the fullness of God dwells in you and works through you. (Ephesians 3:19) Through the Holy Spirit, the fullness of God and the life of Christ live in you. This makes you the mouth, and the hands, and the feet, and the shoulders of Jesus.

Peace is more than all things being calm. Peace is more than the absence of conflict. Peace is more than a feeling inside you. Peace is how you act and relate to the world around you.

Biblical peace is the state of things working right. Biblical peace is about the world working the way we know it ought to work. Marriages working right are peace. Constructive parenthood is peace. The healthy teaching and nurturing of children are peace. Neighbors being neighborly are peace. Outsiders being welcomed are peace. Old people being respected are peace. Good laws and honest public service are peace. People being free to find ways to improve their own lives are peace. Satisfying work to do is peace. Having time to rest and play and think is peace. Just and righteous societies are peace.

The Prince of Peace loves these things and he has a passion for them. Jesus showed this in the way he related to common people and to leaders in the gospels. His people, the people of his kingdom, should share with him a passion for the peace that makes things work the way we know they ought to work.

The kingdom of God has not fully come yet. Jesus promised to return from heaven to earth, and make all things new (Revelation 21:5). Part of the power and passion of being the people of God comes from a holy discontent, a yearning for the peace that hasn’t come. We are discontented because we know that the real reason for the world being the conflicted, brutal, unjust, and angry place that it is comes from the separation of the world from the rule of Christ.

We know Jesus, and we know that it is the lack of Jesus that the world cries out for. We see also that, if the world worked as if Jesus were living his life through every human being, the world would be a Christ-like place.

That is what we want. When we don’t see these things (the things that we and the whole world cry out for), we pray for them, and we stand and work in this world as if Jesus were working through us. This is what Jesus wants, and he can be trusted to do it.

If Jesus returned to the earth and set up his government in Jerusalem, and made us his bureaucrats, and his legislators, and his police force; that would not bring about the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God will come when the people of the world operate according to the justice, and righteousness, and peace that come through the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit.

Exactly how and when this will happen, in the course of history, is not clear. But it is promised.

Loving the coming of God in Christ and loving the birth of Jesus means loving the work of the Prince of Peace. It means praying for his power to be at work in you. The whole principle of his being born in human flesh and blood goes hand in hand with his coming to be born in you.

This is a work in progress, just as his kingdom coming on earth in all its fullness is a work in progress. It is not finished yet. And we are to look for it, wait for it, pray for it, and work for it passionately. Isaiah promises that the Lord of hosts works with zeal and passion to make it happen. (Isaiah 9:7)

This is just a part of the promise which the angels spoke about to the shepherds: of peace on earth, good will toward men. It is an inescapable part of the real meaning of Christmas. May the birth of the Prince of Peace be within you and me.

1 comment:

  1. Good morning pastor Dennis!

    Happy New Year!

    May everyday of the new year glow with good cheer for you and your family.

    P.S. Your Christmas tree looks so pretty!