Peace Now

Isaiah 9:2-7

If you are following along with us in the book “We Make the Road by Walking” then you may remember that this week’s chapter focuses on the stories of Elizabeth and Mary. We’re going to get to those stories, but next week. This week, I want to keep us in the Old Testament, in the prophets who so perfectly demonstrate the longing that we feel during this season of Advent. During Advent, we don’t want to move too quickly to Jesus. Advent is like pregnancy, a season of anticipation, of feeling that something is coming, and that something is already real but not yet present, and that you can’t rush it.

This morning, I want to invite you to take a slow walk through a passage that is almost always read during Advent. This poetry doesn’t just exist in a vacuum and it doesn’t just have meaning for Christians. We read this as a prophecy about Jesus, both the baby in the manger and the resurrected sovereign of the universe. For the original audience it may have been a song celebrating the coronation of the good King Hezekiah in the southern kingdom of Judah. Progressive Jews today read this as an anticipation of an age when this kind of peace is possible. For everyone it is a promise of better days.

This is from the book of Isaiah chapter 9 verses 2 through 7. 

The people walking in darkness

    have seen a great light;

on those living in the land of deep darkness

    a light has dawned.

You have multiplied exultation

    and increased rejoicing;

they rejoice before you

    as people rejoice at the harvest,

as warriors rejoice

    when dividing the plunder.

For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,

    you have shattered

the yoke that burdens them,

    the bar across their shoulders,

    the rod of their oppressor.

For every warrior’s boot used in battle

    and every garment rolled in blood

will be destined for burning,

    will be fuel for the fire.

For unto us a child is born,

    unto us a son is given,

    and the government will be on his shoulders.

And he will be called

    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

His authority shall grow continually, 

    and there shall be endless peace.

He will reign on David’s throne

    and over his kingdom,

establishing and upholding it

    with justice and righteousness

    from that time on and forever.

The zeal of the Lord Almighty

    will accomplish this.

This is the word of God for all people. Thanks be to God.

I’d like to give you a little insight into how I prepare my sermons, which you could also do on your own. One thing I do is just read very slowly and take time with the images. This works best with poetry, but you can do it with other genres too. 

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.” What catches your attention in that phrase? For me, this week, it was that the people were WALKING in darkness. Whether it’s actual darkness or spiritual darkness or emotional darkness or the darkness of oppression, it’s really hard to keep moving in the dark. But if you have no choice but to keep moving forward, stumbling and bumping into things, in the dark, imagine the peace when someone brings the light. 

“You have multiplied exultation and increased rejoicing; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder.” Now the first thing I see here is the image about dividing plunder, which I do not like. But I’m going to choose not to let that overshadow the rest of the text. Biblical poetry often uses two phrases together to help emphasize a point. So let’s set aside the plunder and think about the rejoicing of harvest. At harvest time growers experience the joy of having worked hard and waited in uncertainty for a whole season, knowing that things could go either way. Some of what happened was within their control, but a lot of it was outside their control. Thanks be to God things have turned out well and we rejoice, with the combined feeling of hard work well done and trust confirmed. But harvest and plunder are just images that describe the type of rejoicing. Why are the people really rejoicing?

“For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.” The people rejoice because the burden of oppression has been lifted. The tools used to keep people down have been utterly and finally broken. And it is God who has taken that action. God broke the yoke and the bar and the rod. There’s a real tension to be managed in this section. A strong assertion that it is God who ends oppression could lead people to be passive, and feel like there’s nothing we can or should do in the meantime. And that’s not good. But on the flipside, it’s also not good for us to feel that we are responsible for changing everything. The reality of what needs to be changed in the world is overwhelming and discouraging. So we live in this tension between activity and trust, both working and hoping. 

“For every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.” This is one of my favorite images, despite all the warring and burning and blood. This is a promise that all violence will come to an end. Everything that we put on to make us feel like it was ok to to do violence and everything that was spoiled by violence, we are going to get rid of all of that. We aren’t going to need those anymore, so let’s utterly destroy them.

And finally we rejoice “for unto us a child is born.” All the possibility in the world is wrapped up in this fragile bundle. Every potential exists in this one tiny new person. Our hopes will be realized when he grows to be a counselor and not a dominator, one who uses all the power at his disposal to do justice and righteousness, one who is a nurturer and protector, one who is fully focused on promoting the flourishing of all creation. “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.”

“His authority shall grow continually and there shall be endless peace.” Once this is done, it’s done for all time. Right now we ride around the circle of seasons, experience the highs and lows of human life, witness and participate in the progress and failures of the world as we know it. But one day, some day, in God’s time, in the fullness of time, at just the right time, Christ the King will say “Peace, be still” to the storms of greed and violence and hypocrisy and will once and for all establish justice and righteousness on the earth. To which we say, “Even so, come Lord Jesus.”

During Advent we spend four weeks in anticipation: anticipating the birth (again) of the baby Jesus. But this is a traditional prophecy for Advent because the season of Advent is also time set us aside for us to anticipate the return of Christ the King, when all the promise and potential and hopes that are swaddled in a manger will finally be realized for all of creation. We anticipate the day when justice and righteousness and true peace, shalom, total flourishing for all of creation will be established. This is the Kingdom of God, already begun but not yet fully realized. Hope and peace and joy and love are already present now, but not yet fully experienced by everyone. The promise of Advent is the promise that someday they will be. “And the zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.”


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