Thursday, December 11, 2008

Isaiah 2:1-5; Weekday Advent Service 2

The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord. (Isaiah 2:1-5, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Grace and peace… hey that’s what today’s text is all about peace. “It the last days… They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears in to pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” That sure sounds like peace to me.

It seems to me that this is an especially good time to talk about peace. Our nation is at war, though it hardly seems like it. You don’t get daily updates on the war anymore. We seem to only hear when something bad happens. We don’t even hear much about peace protesters anymore. It’s a far cry from what it was like during the last war, or the one before that even. Today our soldiers go to war and we go shopping. Still, those who support the war and those who are against it have something in common. They all want peace.

This is the season of peace isn’t it? We always talk about peace at this time of year. “Peace on Earth” banners are all around, included in many of your Christmas decorations. “Peace on Earth… good will toward men…” is what the angels sang to the shepherds the night Jesus was born. Peace, we all love to be at peace. But the truth of the matter is this… we are never at peace.

Anyone who studies history at all knows that peace is a very rare commodity. Human history is very often marked and counted by wars. We remember what happened at a certain time because of what war was going on. “I was married at the end of WWII.” “My dad fought in WWII and Korea.” “That was shortly after the evacuation of Hanoi. “Where were you during the Gulf War.” 911 isn’t just the emergency number anymore. Those numbers are permanently engraved on the minds of everyone who saw the towers fall. I’ll always remember my ministry started that year. It was the first major “crisis” I had to deal with in my first congregation.

Time marches on, peace is often outside our grasp. I don’t see much turning swords into plowshares, that this text is talking about. In fact, our government has been spending quite a lot on ‘training for war’. Right now the only way we’d want to turn a sword into a plow is because “If you hit a guy with a plowshare, he really gonna know he’s been hit.”

And yet, at this time of year, as Christmas approaches, we still spout off “Peace on Earth,” and claim that Jesus is the one who brings peace. Jesus is the reason for the season.

Well, maybe we’re talking about a different peace than just the absence of war between nations. Maybe we’re talking about peace between ethnic groups… that hardly seems possible. Look at all the ethnic fighting around the globe. Look at the conflict between India and Pakistan. It is primarily ethnically based. The Arab world against Israel. And how about all the rumors that if Obama wasn’t elected there would be rioting in the streets. There is no peace between ethinc groups and the coming of the little baby in the manger doesn’t seem to have much impact there either.

Let’s look closer to home. Maybe Jesus brings peace to our families. But… I don’t think so. It wasn’t all that long ago when I had a fight with my wife. Are you getting along with all your children? Especially this time of year when we all get extra busy. There is so much to do during the Peace on Earth season, tempers often run a little short. The busier we get the less peace we see. For a season that is about peace that comes through the baby of Bethlehem, it sure seems to bring out the worst in us.

If you want to see a prime example of the lack of peace in families, just look at the divorce rate. It’s staggering! All around us and among us are families torn apart by divorce, children shuffled between households, uncertainty, insecurity, and arguments over child support. And living together before getting married was supposed to be a solution to divorce, a way of testing out the waters, or test driving the car. But couples who live together have a higher divorce rate than those who don’t . There’s no pice here either. Divorce is a declaration of war on the family. Is it any wonder God says, “I hate divorce.” (Mal 2:16)

Well, maybe the peace that it’s talking about is a personal peace. Peace between you and me. You’ve got friends and neighbors… you are at peace with all of them right? No squabbles about fences, his cattle in your field, or letting his trash blow in your yard? My neighbor is alright, if he’d just keep his nose in his own business. Tall fences make good neighbors, we sometimes say. Neighbors sometimes have very strained relationships.

The peace can be broken even in the best relationships… a misspoken word, or with an unintended harsh tone. Feelings are hurt. The friendship is strained, sometimes to the breaking point. Some who were friends haven’t spoke in years. It is easy to see there is not much personal peace either. In fact, when peace is broken on this level the effects are most devastating.

Well maybe the Baby in the Manger brings inner peace. Maybe the peace he brings sooths the inner torment of people. But, a look around will show you troubled people everywhere. Physiologists and psychiatrists have never been busier. Books about curing the troubled heart fill shelf after shelf at the bookstore. If you want to make a mint, come up with a book self help book on better living. On the outside we may be calm, but a storm is brewing… many of us feel on the very brink of disaster. No, peace is not in there either.

“Peace, Peace,” they say when there is no peace. Says the prophet Jeremiah to the people of Israel, who were living in times much like ours… and there is no peace. Nations fight against nations, clans against clans, families are torn apart, friendships are strained and people are tormented from within; the world is full of broken relationships.

There is not peace because human beings are at war, not only with themselves, their neighbors, and other nations, the real problem is that human beings are at war with God! Our sin, which is the real problem we can’t solve, makes us God’s enemy. God is perfect and holy. He doesn’t tolerate sin. He is perfect and just. Sin is real. God’s punishment of sin is just as real. Hell is hot! It is the final expression of God’s anger over sin. It is the destination of sinful people. It is God’s act of war against sin, and sinners. If you sin, if you have trouble in your relationships with other people, if you belong to a nation that is at war, if you harbor ill thoughts about your neighbor, if you are not perfect, then you are not at peace with God. If any of this is true for you, hell is for you.

And yet we say that Jesus Christ brings peace. Peace, as the bible talks about it, is completeness, wholeness, harmony, and fulfillment. It isn’t just and absence of war, but it is being in perfect relationship with everything around you; a perfect relationship with other people and a perfect relationship with God. Peace, says the bible, has its source in God, himself. And so it only makes sense that when God himself, comes among us, in Jesus Christ, he would be called the Prince of Peace.

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. (Isaiah 9:6, ESV)

But still the question remains, how does this Prince of Peace bring peace? How is the peace he brings, for us?

St. Paul wrote a letter to the Church at Ephesus. He wrote it because the church was a church at war with itself. They were fighting Jews against Gentiles. The Jewish Christians wanted the Gentile Christians to undergo all that they did, circumcision, the food laws, and all the regulations. “You can’t be a Christian, without them.” They said. But, Paul said, “No! Because of Jesus you are one. He is your peace. He destroys the wall of hostility between you. He has reconciled you to each other… through the cross.”

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 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, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. (Ephesians 2:13-16, ESV)

Jesus death brings together warring parties. It restores broken relationships. And it does it because Jesus Christ ended the war between God and man. How? By becoming God’s enemy. That’s right, Jesus Christ the only Son of God himself, became God’s mortal enemy. Even though Jesus was perfect, even though he never in his life, from the time he was born in that dingy stable until he hung on the cross to die, did anything to deserve God’s anger. He became God’s enemy. When it was you and I that deserved God’s anger it was poured out on Jesus on the cross. As he hung there on those nails, as he breathed in agony, as he suffered, he called out to his father, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me!” and God turned away from his enemy and let him die. And with that death, the war ended. “It is finished!” Jesus said, “The war is over.” He told his disciples:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:27, ESV)

As amazing and as wonderful as this peace is, it wasn’t the last word on the subject. “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” the angel asked. “He is risen! God approves of him again. The war is over. God approves of you! Jesus has done all that is required for you to be at peace with God.”

Since Jesus died as God’s enemy, we no longer need to do so. Since Jesus suffered hell on the cross, in God’ rejection of him, we have become his beloved children. That’s what he promises us when we are baptized into his family. We, who were once enemies of God, have gone from enemies to children. Talk about a change in status! There at the font, God wraps us in his loving arms, “You are mine!” and “You are mine!” and “You are mine!” There is no stronger statement of self-worth that can be spoken. Think of it the Creator of the Universe says to you, you are my very own child. What an ultimate statement of inner peace, to be loved and cared for by God, himself. And what God has done for us, he promises to other people, too.

As we live and work with the people around us, we realize that these too are people for whom Jesus died. He loves them so much that they too are children of God when they believe what he has done for them. If he loves them that much how can we, who are also his children do any less. Our togetherness in Christ, because of what he has done for all of us, brings down the walls of hostility. All of our relationships are different because of what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. Instead of raising a sword against each other, peace can grow and flourish. The energy needed to make war can be turned to making peace; building up, instead of tearing down. And the peace that Isaiah is talking about can begin. That’s turning swords into plowshares, and spears into pruning hooks. That’s true peace brought to us by the Prince of Peace.

That’s why we remember what happened so many years ago, in a dark stable, in a small corner of the world. That’s why we celebrate the birth of the ‘enemy of God.’ Jesus brings peace. He is peace. Peace, first, between God and man. Peace in our families. Peace among friends and neighbors, and even peace between nations.

And he is coming again. And then the peace we have right now, the peace that he brings will be fully realized. The Prince of Peace becomes the King of Peace. All nations will ‘stream’ to him, just as Isaiah says. And peace will flow like a river.

Whenever we think of Advent we think about looking forward to Christmas. And that’s what advent is all about, but it’s more than that… it’s also looking forward to the time when Jesus will come again. The time when the peace he brings will be everywhere, and there will be no more war only peace. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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