a message by Rev. Dr. Bruce Havens
Coral Isles Church, U.C.C.
December 10, 2023
2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness — on them light has shined. 3 You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. 4 For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. 5 For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. 6 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. 7 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.
What would real peace be like? Can you even imagine it? When? How? Each week in Advent we focus on a theme. This week the theme is “Peace,” right? Our Opening Prayer reminded us of the theme of Peace. Well, everyone talks about peace. Publix puts out advertisements that portray “peace.” Coca-Cola has those Christmas ads that hint at peace. But the concept of peace has always been hijacked for a lot purposes besides selling groceries or soda pop. Those that have power in this world understand how to manipulate the concept of peace. They give us a taste of what they call peace. But mostly it just seems to confuse us enough that we don’t realize what they are giving us is not “the real thing.” It’s not a new technique. Governments have been practicing this for centuries.
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Caesar was one of, if not the most powerful men in the world. Among his many titles was “Prince of Peace.” Ironically, he ruled having conquered most of the Mediterranean world by violence and armed force. His political platform proclaimed “Pax Romana,” the peace of the Roman Empire. His armies provided this peace with armies and the swift execution by nailing people to crosses who dared to cross him.
When Jesus was born a man named Herod was called “King of the Jews.” He only had that title because he paid for it. He guaranteed Caesar he would take every dollar he could get from the poor, starving people of Palestine and give it to Caesar. Except, of course it also empowered him to keep everything he could for himself. When some “wise men,” some “magi,” came looking for a “new king of the Jews,” the first thing he did, according to the Bible, was murder every child in Palestine under the age of 2.
Fast forward to 2023. Peace on earth? Sure I’m in. Powerful politicians tell us the way to that is what they call “law and order.” What law and order does is claim that anyone who protests Caesar’s power should be jailed. They tell us “those” people are violent and the only way we’ll be safe – their version of “peace,” – is to jail everyone we can. Perhaps you heard me mention a few weeks ago that Florida has the highest prison rate in the country. We jail more people than all but 3 other nations in the world. In 2020 we jailed 4,500 children under the age of 10 years old. Our state government made prisons a private, for-profit industry. The company that has the contract for this is a real estate investment firm that profits by the imprisonment of as many people as possible. Think there is a connection between that and our rate of imprisoning children? Think there is a reason they define peace as “law and order?”
The Bible has always defined peace differently. The Hebrew Bible defines it as “shalom.” You’ve heard the definition of shalom. It means for all of creation and all people and their Creator God live in cooperation and harmony. It means there is justice, which is very different from “law and order,” for ALL people. It is a vision of something never achieved by human government or human society on any large scale. The prophet Isaiah, whom we read this morning, speaks about this vision in the verses we read.
He promises that the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. I think he means they came to their senses and realized all the false forms of peace were too little. I think he means they saw the light that helped them see through the darkness of rulers from Egypt or Babylon or Persia or Rome or even Jerusalem. The word translated “darkness” is the same word as the one in Psalm 23 – a word that actually has roots in a name for “a deity of evil,” who lurked “in dark places ready to destroy the unwary. The word appears to have become a byword for danger and darkness.”1
The light that they saw was focused on the birth of a “son.” That son would be called by many mighty titles including “Prince of Peace.” Christians have found great meaning in the prophetic words. We have come to believe it points us to see the light in Yeshua ben Yosef, better known to us as Jesus, son of Joseph. He was from Nazareth, and we call him “the Christ.” And of course, you remember, Christ is the Greek word for the Jewish word “Messiah,” which means “anointed one,” as in anointed as King, or Ruler. A new king means the old king is no longer king.
This Jesus, the Anointed One, did not get anointed to take Caesar’s or Pharoah’s or any other King’s rule. Jesus did not come to take their place on a throne. His rule is a very different than the ways humans have ruled. And Christmas is about Christ coming – not just in the past - but now. That’s the real Christmas, when Christ comes and changes a life. This commitment to the way of Christ has a different set of values than any political party or even many churches. Real Christmas will be different from all the false Christmas’s. Christ’s peace is not based on glitzy sentimental advertising. It doesn’t come from an all-consuming consumer lust that leaves us lacking what we want while we are buried under credit card debt, again. That isn’t the pathway to real peace. Thankfully this King of Kings is a Prince of Peace.
I am ready for a new Christmas, one that changes everything, not to the way I want it, but to the way God wants it. I want a real Prince of Peace not a false god who rules for his own benefit while everyone else suffers. I want a peace that is shalom. That’s the Christmas I really want. But that means realizing the false peace promises of would-be kings and false gods aren’t enough. Real peace, as the prophet Isaiah promises is one where the real Prince of Peace will rule and:
7 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.
I am trying to learn what real peace is. Someone asked a pastor, [Rev. Cameron Trimble, “Piloting Faith,” December 3, 2020 ] “How do I find peace? I just feel so unmoored, so adrift but drowning in busyness. I can’t pack any more things into my day, but I feel so unsatisfied with my life.” Many people could echo those feelings.
“It is a symptom of our age. We are experiencing change, trauma and drama at a rate faster than at any time before in human history. You and I have lived 10 to 100 times the life experience of our ancestors of previous generations. This pace creates anxiety. Many of us feel disoriented, unsettled and wondering if this is how to live our best lives.
“The psychologist Carl Jung shared a conversation he had with a Native American chief named Mountain Lake. Mountain Lake gave Jung a very frank assessment of the way his people saw Europeans.
“Their eyes have a staring expression,” the chief said. “They are always seeking something. What are they seeking? The whites always want something. They are always uneasy and restless. We do not know what they want. We do not understand them. We think they are all mad.”
“Jung asked Chief Mountain Lake to elaborate: Why, exactly, did white people seem so insane to the Native Americans?
“They say they think with their heads,” responded Mountain Lake.
“Why, of course,” said Jung. “What do you think with?”
“We think here,” said Chief Mountain Lake, and he pointed to his heart.”
That pastor who was asked about peace said, “This is the key to peace. Thinking from our hearts, the place where God speaks to us most freely.” She says, “The work of making peace begins with the task of making ourselves whole. The tragedy is that our culture places little value on this. From a young age we are taught that knowledge comes through reading, writing and arithmetic – all exercises of our heads. We value external results. We have invested countless years, dollars and talent exploring the outer world. We have sailed to every continent, encountered many diverse cultures, and discovered most of the species of plants and animals on the earth. This has kept us busy “doing,” but it has not always deepened our experience of ‘being.’”
She says, “The critical calling of our age today is to explore our inner world. In fact,” she says she believes that “the survival of our outer world depends on our ability to reconnect with our inner world. It is only when we realize that we are enough that we finally understand that we have enough. And then, we understand peace.” Maybe when we truly understand peace we will know what real peace is and we will pursue it as passionately as anything else in life. I think that begins when we listen to our hearts remind us that every single other person on this planet is our sibling, part of our family. Hating, fearing, and allowing another person to suffer is no way to peace, no way to follow Christ. Christ came to simply show us the way to love others.
What is real peace to you? Is it freedom from worry? Is it letting go of fear and embracing the way of hope, love, joy, and peace? God says the Prince of Peace will have the power to establish “endless peace” and will “uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. Isaiah says that God’s zeal will be powerful enough to do this. It starts when you and I and enough people allow this Prince of Peace to sit on the thrones of our hearts. With Christ ruling in our hearts we will have the power to bring this just and lasting peace.
Every one of us actually has the power to let Christ be the ruler of our hearts. The only thing that keeps us from doing it is believing we have that power. That is the incredible good news. What makes it even better is that God sent a human, who lived in the flesh as we say. God sent him to show us his way of peace in real, everyday life. And even today he invites us to follow in his way, to make room in our hearts for his life, his presence, his peace. That’s real peace. AMEN.