Prince of Peace
“Prince of Peace”
A sermon on Isaiah 2:1-5
preached by Rev. Elizabeth Meador Strobel
at Trinity Presbyterian Church
on December 1, 2019 – 1st Sunday in Advent (A)
The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
2 In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. 3 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 forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. 4 He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
5 O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!
Apple has a new Christmas commercial this year that’s a pretty effective tearjerker. It’s a three minute piece entitled “The Surprise,” featuring two elementary aged sisters who, like most siblings, are having trouble getting along during the holidays.[i] They squabble in the car, on the airplane, at the airport, and all the way to their grandfather’s house for Christmas. Because it’s an ad for Apple, every time the parents need a little peace, they hand the kids an iPad. Kids are bored – the iPad brings peace. Kids are hungry – the iPad brings peace. Kids are getting too playful – the iPad brings peace. In the course of the commercial, though, you learn that the family has recently lost the grandmother and are all grieving through the holidays. Unbeknownst to the adults, the girls use their iPad time to collect old photos and videos around the house and make a family slideshow, even pasting their grandmother into current family photos to remind everyone that she is still with them. And in the moment that the family is gathered around the screen and smiles through their tears, you see a moment of real peace – not just quiet, but a sense of wholeness, connectedness. Real, honest to goodness, peace.
Our world craves peace – in some ways, that makes us crave Christmas. This Apple Christmas commercial, like so many others, came out before even Thanksgiving. Christmas creeps a little earlier every year, and while we can complain about the commercialism, the reality is that it comes up sooner each year because we long for the peace and wholeness of the holidays. Christmas movies with happy endings, family gatherings with special traditions, church services with familiar carols – we love it. We long for it. It answers a need in our hearts that we can’t quite name. And so while we can lament that Christmas now starts showing up in July, the reality is that our celebrations speak to something real within us. We yearn for those moments of true peace, of harmony between people, of connection to those who have gone before. We long for peace. And even though we never quite achieve it at Christmas, we get close enough that we wait for the holidays year after year.
Of course, with all this build up, by about December 20 we’re primed for something big to happen. A lot of holiday depression comes around because it’s never quite as “big” as we imagine Christmas can be. The “peace on earth” we proclaim in our carols never actually happens for us. Families fight, presents disappoint, cookies get burned, loneliness sets in, the weather turns cold, the nights get longer. Despite the deepest desires of our hearts, the Christmas season never brings us the real peace we long for. It’s like keeping a child quiet with an iPad – only a temporary illusion of peace.
In this vision of Isaiah, though, God promises us something real, something big. Isaiah takes us to a mountain and shows us what our hearts really long for. Isaiah tells us that one day, God will dwell with us and earth and human beings from every race, nation, and tribe will be compelled to seek God together. We will no longer need promises or images of peace – God’s very self will teach us the right way to live. God’s word will come to us and out of that word will come real peace. God’s word will transform us, judging between nations and people. We will no longer need to settle disputes ourselves, we can put that all in God’s hands. And because we no longer need to fight, we can turn our swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning-hooks – our weapons can be turned into farming equipment, tools for nourishment and growth. We won’t even need to think of or study war; real justice will reign, and we will live in true peace. Not just an absence of fighting, but a presence of growth and flourishing. In these five verses of Isaiah, the promise is this: God will heal those things that grieve us.
Now before we get ahead of ourselves, I want to be clear: this is not a sermon about pacifism. This is not a sermon disparaging the use of weapons in dangerous situations or that doesn’t appreciate people who serve our country by putting themselves in danger. Isaiah doesn’t scold us for how we live right now. Violence and war are very real in our world. What Isaiah is talking about is a world in which God promises that violence and war will no longer be real.
Think about that for a minute. Think about what it would mean to “study war no more,” as the text says. No more war. No more need for weapons. No more fighting. No more violence. No more need even of self-defense. All of those resources turned toward feeding the hungry and helping the earth grow. And I don’t think Isaiah just means wars against nations. No more war within ourselves, either. No need to be defensive with others. No more self-doubt. No more debt. No more despair. No more family feuds or broken relationships. No more crying or mourning or weeping or pain.[ii] That’s not just a moment of quiet, that’s peace that brings wholeness and growth – what the Hebrew Scripture calls shalom. Can you even wrap your mind around what it would be like to live in true peace – in shalom?
It’s a dream. An impossible, unrealistic dream. It’s much easier to hope that an iPad will bring peace than to think that God can truly create a world of shalom. It’s almost a better use of our time to pin our hopes on Hallmark movies and family gatherings and gifts – those things may be imperfect, but they’re at least real.
In the season of Advent, we turn our hearts toward those things that aren’t real – yet. We give into the unspoken yearnings of our hearts. We let ourselves believe, even for a second, that this kind of peace could one day be real. We affirm the impossible, unrealistic truth that Christ will one day return and change our world into one of peace, hope, joy, and love. As our Matthew text tells us, we don’t know the day or the hour this will happen. It will be unexpected – our job is to stay awake to the dream that God sends Isaiah. One day, impossible as it seems, God promises to make peace our reality – and we will study war no more. And the Prince of Peace will reign forever.
Christmas is about the arrival of Christ. It’s warm and tender and we love the sense of peace that brings. But in Advent, as we prepare for Christmas, we remember that we’re not preparing just for a peaceful, silent night two thousand years ago. We’re preparing for a day we don’t yet know, when a peace that surpasses our understanding will reign. It’s impossible, it’s unrealistic, and it’s true. One day, we will walk in the light of the Lord and study war no more. Thanks be to God. Amen.
[ii] Revelation 21