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Prince of Peace

Dec 24, 2017

Passage: Isaiah 9:6

Preacher: Rev. Dr. Alfonso Espinosa

Category: Sunday, Advent, Christmas Eve


Text: “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.”

In the Name of Jesus. Amen. It is easy to go from being in a state of relative peace and then all of sudden, witness that peace dissipate in nothing flat. What happens when we enter crisis and that crisis is marked by conflict? All kinds of emotions begin to reign: dread, fear, anger, bitterness, resentment, worry…it’s enough to make us feel sick to our stomachs. Sometimes such conflict can be so painful and stressful, that other problems develop, and the situation can easily go from bad to worse. It is like being in a personal war. Life isn’t very much fun when this happens.

When these things do happen, then we can relate to the desire and longing for peace. In conflict, we feel incomplete, but in peace, we are made whole; in conflict we can feel broken, but in peace, we are made sound and well; in conflict we can feel beaten up, but in peace we feel healed. In conflict, there is sadness, but in peace there is joy.

Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, is given in Isaiah 9:6 the Messianic title “Prince of Peace.” And of all the Christmas gifts that we anticipate, is there any one better than being given the very source of all peace; the One who in His very own person is peace. The One who causes all conflict and war to cease is the One who is our greatest gift. He is our peace.

But still we struggle. Our Lord Himself teaches that we should not think that He came to bring peace and yet at the same time, the Scriptures teach that His peace pervades. Obviously, this can be very confusing.

On the one hand, Jesus taught point blank: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.” (Matthew 10:34-36) The Lord taught this so that we would know that divisions come by-virtue of some people living in faith and others living in unbelief. The two do not mix and as a result, conflict ensues. There is disagreement about the single most important thing in life even within families (sometimes especially within families): The Lord Jesus. When this happens, there is not peace, so our Lord teaches that as-a result of His coming, peace is often the last thing achieved between people. He is often the flashpoint for conflict. There is – through our Savior – a very real lack of peace. He warned us. We are not surprised.

And yet, when He was born, the angels heralded: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14) The Old Testament anticipated that through His saving ministry we would receive peace (and we have). Isaiah 53:5: “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.”

Thus, the Scriptures are bold to present a seeming contradiction (note the word “seeming” and not actual): Christ comes so that there is no peace and at the same time, Christ comes to give peace. Now at this juncture, it is easy to slide into the common explanation. It seems simple enough. In-regard to the horizontal dimension between people, there is a lack of peace; but in-regard to the vertical dimension between God and man, there is peace. And with that simple distinction, some think we have solved the problem. Because people disagree on Christ, there is a lack of peace, but because of the atoning blood of Christ, we have peace with God. That is how there is no peace and abundant peace at the same time. This is a both-and situation, not an either-or.

We have-to be very careful with such a simple answer, because at the end of the day we can reduce the peace that Jesus brings to something that is merely spiritual that has no impact upon our relationships and the experience of real life. Indeed, we can’t ignore that the Scriptures also admonish: “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14) Let’s not try to wiggle out of the seeming contradiction too easily. We are real, live people with a real, live Savior who gives real, live peace.

But if this is true – if we can’t throw out the fact that He also really does bring real peace in real relationships – then we stand convicted. In our sin – in our leaning inward towards ourselves – we try to justify way too much. We give ourselves reasons to be like Ebenezer Scrooge. “Bah humbug”…we reserve the right to be grumpy; we have every reason to be like the Grinch. Why? Because of the world we live in…just look at it: it is full of conflict at every turn and at every level. Indeed, I can use my “horizonal peace” logic to my advantage as I make excuses for my lack of love; my lack of joy; and my lack of peace. This is a world of conflict and that’s just the way it is.

We are not denying that true Christians struggle under the weight of their crosses. We do not deny that we feel pain and sorrow. And we do not deny that there is a lack of peace that we experience in our lives. But, that’s not the whole story. And the sinful problem that we perpetuate is that we are excused to retreat to bitterness and sadness; and frankly contribute to conflict and war, so that our pain is massaged as we return evil-for-evil. This is when sin is excused. This is when bitterness is rationalized. And this is when resisting peace is justified. And this -- my brothers and sisters -- is a terrible sin we commit: when we just go along with a lack of peace. When we stop praying for our enemies; when we stop overcoming evil with good; and when we give up on love that is only love when it is applied to the unlovable; and when we stop forgiving that is only forgiveness when it applied to those who don’t deserve it. And we excuse our sin by saying foolish things like, “Well, they deserve it,” or “That’s just the way I am,” or “A leopard can’t change its spots.” It is another way that we excuse ourselves in our sin to contribute to the lack of peace.

These rationalizations won’t do.

The Venerable Bede made an important historical observation about the coming of Christ: “And, indeed, just as in the divinity the Mediator between God and human beings foresaw the mother of whom he willed to be born when he should so will, so also in his humanity he chose the time that he wished for his nativity. Moreover, he himself granted that that [time] should be such as he willed, namely, that in a calm among the storm of wars a singular tranquility of unusual peace should cover the whole world. He chose a time of utmost peace as the time when he would be born because this was the reason for his being born in the world, that he might lead the human race back to the gifts of heavenly peace…Our Lord was born in a time of peace, so that even by the circumstance of the time he might teach that he was the very one of whom the prophecy sent before [him] spoke: ‘His sovereignty will be multiplied, and there will be no end of peace.’…The very author of peace and the Maker of time sent before him a time of peace, and thus when he appeared in the flesh he opened an approach to light and proclaimed the joys of eternal peace first to the house of Jacob (that is, the Israelite people), and then to all the nations which came streaming to him. And we must not pass over the fact that the serenity of that earthly peace, at the time when the heavenly king was born, not only offered testimony to his grace but also provided a service, since it bestowed on the preachers of his word the capability of traveling over the world and spreading abroad the grace of the gospel wherever they wished.” (Ancient Christian Commentary, Old Testament Volume X. 76-77)

Now historians may debate as to how much the Venerable Bede might have exaggerated, but his basic point still stands: Jesus was in fact born at the time of the Roman peace; and this peace was real enough for Magi from a far-away land to find safe-passage to find Him; the Lord in fact destroyed the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile through His real-world fulfillment of the Law and His real-life shedding of His real blood; and through His real and bodily resurrection for all real people; and the Lord did in fact establish enough earthly peace for the apostles to spread out to preach the Gospel – that continues to happen – for all nations. These things are true. Bede is simply stating a fact: The true Prince of Peace brought a real peace even upon the real earth.

And this is the point of the gospel about the Prince of Peace. No one my dear brothers and sisters in Christ understands the pain we go through, when there is disruption of peace in our lives, better than the Lord Jesus. He is compassionate, and He is merciful; and He came not for some ethereal, spiritual, far-away peace; but He came for real peace in your real life. And it is the saving gospel of His life, death and resurrection for the sins of the world that has in fact brought peace.

This we confess. This we know. And it is real in at least two ways: first, real peace is yours by the fact that the day is coming for your real life; in your real resurrected body brought into the new heaven and earth, you will experience perfect peace filling your life. All conflict, all war will quite simply be gone. This future peace has already been won; and is absolutely guaranteed. This peace will be experienced in your body as all stress and anguish will disappear; and it will be experienced in all your relationships as nothing but pure love will bind us one to another. All past conflict will be forgotten. This is the Lord’s promise to us: we will live full of peace within ourselves and towards everyone else who will live in the eternal light of the Lamb.

But there is another real way that we know the Lord’s real peace: we know it even now as we struggle. The Prince of Peace comes now, today, this morning to give you His very body and blood in the Holy Sacrament and this Christians is the gift of peace, not just for the future, but for today. When in the sacred liturgy, the pastor says to you, “Peace be with you,” and you reply, “And with thy spirit,” this is peace confessed for the here and now. The office of Jesus that the pastor serves in for you extends peace right now, today. And you acknowledge it; you accept it when you say, “And with thy spirit.” We are saying, we know that the peace that comes from the Word and Sacrament of Jesus is ours today. We have peace with God and we extend God’s peace to those around us. Even if we are in the middle of a relationship in which someone else is attacking us; we are given a peace that says, “I don’t have too play that game. I can overcome evil with good. I can – by the Lord Jesus who is with me – live in peace.” Even if we are put to death, nothing can stop the witness of the one in Christ who died for us; nothing can take away God’s peace from me. And the more we live in this reality, the more we will extend His peace in the real world. In this way, peace is seen even when there is a lack of peace all around us.

The movie “Hacksaw Ridge” is a possible example of what I am talking about. It is a true story of the soldier who served in the Army during World War II who refused to carry a gun. In the middle of war, in the middle of conflict, in the middle of the lack of peace; Desmond Doss saved some 75 souls when there chaos all around him. He refused to stop being who he was just because everyone was telling him to live differently. In the middle of a world that screamed, “no peace!” he lived as one who brought peace…rescuing the wounded and saving lives.

This is a microcosm example of what I am describing. We do not deny the lack of peace; we do not deny the conflict; but we ALSO confess who is with us now. I don’t know what compelled Desmond Doss and I certainly do not claim to understand his convictions and faith, but we know what drives the Christian. The Christian sees the invisible in the visible; the Christian sees Christ in-the-midst of what is contrary; the Christian lives in a way that the world cannot comprehend. We live with peace even when there is no peace. We extend peace to those who reject it; we give peace to those who deny it; we share peace with those who don’t deserve it. Why? Because this is what the Prince of Peace has given to us. He has conquered all that disrupts our peace – beginning with our very own sin – and He has granted to us peace, the peace of God which surpasses all understanding; the peace of God that keeps our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, the Prince of Peace, until He comes in glory. God’s peace is ours. We are now ready for Christmas!