Peace of the Prince of Peace

Today’s reading is Isaiah 8:19-22Open Link in New Window & Isaiah 9:1-7Open Link in New Window

Here is today’s reflection by Richard.

Video available from 2pm Sunday.

Our Advent topic today is entitled Peace—the Prince of Peace.

It is interesting where people look for peace of mind.

This week I was talking with someone about cars and MOT’s; and asked how their rather ageing, but nice Jeep was getting on—They said all was fine and then started looking around for something. Eventually they put their hand on a wooden pallet left in the road by builders. I was a bit mystified—I asked them what they were doing—and got the cheery reply: ‘touching wood’. As though somehow holding onto an old wooden pallet makes your car less likely to go wrong! I am sure the person didn’t believe that touching wood really made any difference but they still did it.

People will try and derive peace and place their hope in all sorts of things and quite a lot of it is really quite dark. Under the umbrella of New Age philosophies you will find; astrology, witchcraft (under various guises) and spiritualism, all of this masquerading as light. My great Aunt was a spiritualist and when me and my cousin visited her in the 1970s she waxed lyrical about her spirit guide. As teenagers we thought it hilarious but of course it wasn’t at all funny my aunt was seriously misguided in her spiritual practices.

Our reading today starts by describing a people dabbling in these things and in particular consulting the spirits of the dead and the worship of false gods—the so called New Age is in fact very old. At the time King Ahaz was the king of Judah, who is described as doing ‘evil in the sight of God’ according to 2 Kings 16:2Open Link in New Window. This included worshipping Molech a Canannite god which was associated with child sacrifice. It is said Ahaz sacrificed his own son.

These were times of great turmoil, with the expansion of the Assyrian and Bablylonian empires. Instead of turning to the living God for support in these troubled times. Ahaz and the people sought comfort from the wrong places. Isaiah speaks of the mediums and false prophets chirping and muttering their advice and findings—in other words it is opaque and surrounded in mystery. Their path only led to darkness which ultimately meant defeat, exile and death.

And yet in this darkness was a remnant or group of people who have remained faithful to the living God, the God of their ancestors. For them Isaiah prophecies a different future: It is a glorious future where

  1. The lands of Zebulun and Naphtali, conquered by the Assyrians are returned to the Lord’s people… but more than this, they have been expanded to include the land of the nations. The new kingdom in other words would include gentiles which of course is us.
  2. The darkness and gloom is gone, replaced by light with ensuing hope and peace. Under this reign of peace God’s people prosper.
  3. The oppressors and enemies are gone and there is a reminder of Gideon defeating the army of the Midianites with just 300 men. The might of the Assyrians, Babylonians and all oppressors will be overcome by the Lord and not by the might of human beings.

How is this to be achieved?
Not by the raising of an even greater army to defeat the conquerors but through the birth of a child, a son of the royal line of David. As one commentator puts it, salvation is non-contributory. In other words salvation is a gift. This child will grow up to have ultimate and everlasting authority and will be known as:

  • Wonderful Counsellor
  • Mighty God
  • Everlasting Father
  • Prince of Peace

These prophecies are of course, fulfilled in the person of Jesus. Contrast this description with Ahaz and the other earthly kings—even Solomon with all his wisdom is nowhere near the perfection of this coming king.

As I have been writing this, Handel’s Messiah has been ringing in my head and the aria ‘unto us a child is born’. Handel beautifully captures the joy of this passage in his music—I would highly recommending listening to the Messiah this Christmas at some point.

When I became a Christian and discovered this and other prophecies in the Old Testament I was really excited—the birth of Jesus being prophesied some 600–700 years before he was born in Bethlehem. I thought was amazing and I still do today. For me it firms up my belief in God and his plan for his world as revealed in the scriptures. It highlights our need as Christians to get to know the whole of the Bible.

Isaiah does not present us with vague mumblings like those of seers and fortune tellers. Instead commissioned by God, he proclaims the most of wonderful of news, there is a saviour who will bring everlasting peace.

Today, do you feel you have peace?… or has the year to date and all the current uncertainties causing you to feel anxious or maybe even somewhat afraid. There is much at the moment that can disturb our peace:

  • We could have health worries for us or our family and friends.
  • We might be worried about Christmas, having to make hard choices as to who we will see.
  • We might be concerned about our jobs or money issues.
  • We could be anxious about family who we haven’t seen for months and are unlikely to see for a while.
  • We could be living on our own with the prospect of a solitary Christmas
  • There may be anxiety about the repercussions of a no deal Brexit

We may not be threatened by an enemy army like those in Isaiah’s time. Nor are we subject to an occupying force, like the world that Jesus was born into. But nevertheless, our concerns are real and justified—we are living in unprecedented times.

This passage reminds us that there is light and hope. We can turn to Jesus now and ask him to bring us peace in our lives. Jesus promises us that peace John 14:27Open Link in New Window:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

What a wonderful promise that is…

Inherently we know that Jesus can give us peace but sometimes it is hard to let go. Many a time I have gone to bed worried about something and I have prayed a prayer asking for peace only to snatch the worry back.

The lovely old hymn ‘What a Friend we have in Jesus’ is a reminder that we can take everything to Jesus the Prince of Peace and hand our burdens to Him. The hymn writer clearly understands our tendency to hold onto our worry because in the second verse he says this:

Oh, what peace we often forfeit
Oh, what needless pain we bear
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer

Let us not forfeit the peace that Jesus brings to us this Advent and into Christmas, let us take everything to him in prayer no matter what it is.

Amen

There will be a video version of the service.

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