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…
Those words, from the prophet Isaiah, are the very first words that I spoke as a worship leader, about 25 years ago. It was Christmas Eve, and the confirmation class was leading the early service at the church I attended; at 35, I was the oldest participant. I will never forget the awe and wonder at proclaiming those words as the call to worship that evening.
The people who have walked in darkness, have seen a great light! We are not seeing that great light here in the northern hemisphere… we move deeper and deeper into the darkness of winter for another 20 days… but the darkness holds promise… the promise of life held in limbo. Just like a child grows deep in the darkness of a mother’s womb.
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 [Parent], Prince of Peace.
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.
And there shall be endless peace.
Isaiah would have been referring to a king of Judah in this passage, not Jesus. Although we have taken the passage and concluded that it refers to Jesus, a foretelling if you will.
But, really, what this passage sets up is the people’s understanding that peace depended on just and compassionate rulers. In the so-called pax Romana, Caesar had created “peace” by suppressing human rights, so the Jews had a great yearning for freedom, for light. How poignant would be the vision from Isaiah, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” (Marcia McFee, sermon notes from Calm and Bright)
I don’t think Jesus was a peaceful man… at least not if we think of peaceful as calm and serene. He presented a vision of God’s Shalom to us, just like Isaiah gave us in our scriptures… A vision where there was nobody left out… A vision of a place for each one of us… He called people to account when they acted in ways that he thought were contrary to God’s vision and shalom.
Isaiah dreamed of a different kind of ruler.
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
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 any more.
Our closing hymn today is Let There Be Peace on Earth… and it ends with ‘and let it begin with me.’ Earlier I spoke of the Christmas Eve truce between the Germans and the Allied forces. A truce that had to start with one person… a leader… but the second person is just as essential… for without the response, the crossing of a line, there would be no truce. And of course, truce is not the way we are called to live… we are called to live in shalom… the way of justice for all.
Most of us have never been to war… and hopefully will never have to experience that kind of violence and aggression. But I think we all have places of tension or anger or antagonism. What would be like if we beat our metaphorical swords into plowshares?
What would it be like to offer a welcoming smile to someone you have had a disagreement with? Or an outstretched hand to someone you have old resentments?
It’s risky… and uncomfortable… so I invite you, if you don’t feel called to offer the first move towards shalom, perhaps you can respond when someone offers it to you. Because the response is as important as the initiation.
Jesus didn’t just leave us with the vision of a better world… he left us with the responsibility to work for the vision…That’s harder than waiting for a saviour to come and make everything right… Instead Jesus taught us these things… Love God and love your neighbour as yourself… And that whoever welcomed one in his name, welcomed Jesus and God.
So, this Christmas season, as you prepare once again to welcome the Prince of Peace into your homes and hearts… Take comfort and strength for the work of peace… a peace that is not the absence of war in parts of the world… but an absence of war throughout the world… A peace that is not just food for some… but for everyone… A peace that sees each naked person clothed… each hungry mouth fed… each oppressed one freed…. A peace that starts with how we interact with each other in small ways and large ones… A peace that begins in your own hearts and spreads to the world…
As the days continue to grow dark, remember this:
Thanks be to God, amen.
Isaiah 2:1-4; 9:2, 6-7
December 2, 2018
ECM – Advent 1 – Peace