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First Presbyterian Church, Nashville

Dr. Todd B. Jones

4th Sunday of Advent, December 21, 2014

 What’s in a Name? Prince of Peace

Isaiah 9:2-7; Luke 20:1-20

              A wealthy couple living in London wearied of all the conflict, all the violence, all the political and social turmoil that haunts our planet. They were tired of big cities, tired of hectic, frenzied living, tired of the rat race. So as retirement neared, they wished to get away from it all, to find a quiet, peaceful place to dwell, a place safe and secure. They wanted to find a place with a good climate, far from the hustle and bustle of this world. They studied economic factors, political stability, population density, access to healthcare, and after exhaustive research and extensive travel, they bought their dream retirement home off the coast of South America. The name of their chosen paradise was The Falkland Islands, and a month after their move in April of 1981, war broke out as an Argentinian military junta tried to gain control of the islands, which had been a British crown colony since 1841. The Argentinian military calculated that Britain would not have the will to respond militarily to their coup. They did not accurately assess British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and for the next seventy-four days, a full-scale war raged. Their peaceful, safe, secure corner of the world proved to be anything but that!

             I share their story because it reminds us of how elusive our quest for peace on this troubled planet can be. A University of Chicago historian a few years ago wrote that over the last four hundred years of recorded history, there have been more than three hundred major wars. The United States has fought in nineteen of them, and as we gather here to worship on the eve of another Christmas, there is no guarantee that we will not fight in another one. We live in a land, and in a world, still marked by too much violence, and Ferguson, Missouri reminds us all of how fragile peace is, and how quickly things can turn. In many ways, it is a dark world into which we head on this Christmas, too prone to violence, with too little peace. Yet it is no darker than the world into which Isaiah spoke his prophetic words centuries ago: “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government will be upon his shoulders, and his name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, and of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end.”

             It is surely no darker than the world over which the star of Bethlehem shone two thousand years ago; no darker than that night when the angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!” Peace was then, and is now, elusive for the human family.

             Yet the longing for peace on earth and good will toward all is a universal longing. The promise of peace is part of the power of Christmas, and a huge reason why the season still touches us in such deep places. My father’s favorite artist was Edward Hicks, the American folk painter and Quaker preacher who created sixty-one versions of his most famous painting that still survive. The Peaceable Kingdom, based upon Isaiah’s vision that one day, “the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.” We worship that little child as the Babe who was born under the star of Bethlehem as the Prince of Peace, as the world’s last great hope for peace. Yet the peace Jesus offers is a different kind of peace. Even Jesus acknowledges this, when He said in John’s Gospel, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you; not as the world gives, do I give unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

             As Hicks painted his work over and over, and the world did not seem to find peace, but threatened total war over slavery, his paintings changed. The animals in them grew more ferocious looking. But what did not change for Edward Hicks was the little baby in the center of most of his works. For Hicks, the baby born in Bethlehem remained our great hope for peace, for lasting, abiding peace. Peace is finally the work of God in the world, and the work God calls us all to do in service to Him.

             The Prince of Peace still offers a peace you can have even when the world around you is going crazy. The wonder of Christmas is not that the world is dark and dangerous still. The real wonder of Christmas is that the world’s darkness has never been able to extinguish the light and peace that Christmas brings. John put it like this in writing of the Prince of Peace: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

             The star shines over Bethlehem more brightly today than it did two thousand years ago. Herod, Caiaphas, Pilate and Caesar, are only remembered because of their ties to Jesus. Mohammed, the Ottomans, Attila, Hitler, Stalin, Mao Tse-Tung and countless others have tried to extinguish the light of the star, and all have failed. History runs heavy with the enemies of Christianity, yet none of them are left standing. Thirty-five years after Calvary, Roman historian Tacitus wrote in his journal with great surprise, “This pestilent Christianity has broken out again.” Tacitus was amazed it had lasted thirty-five years! But we gather for another Christmas two thousand years later, and Christianity is still the fastest growing religion in the world. More people will celebrate Christmas on this planet in 2014 than ever have before in human history. Jesus, the Babe of Bethlehem, the Prince of Peace, remains the world’s great hope, and offers still a “peace that passes all understanding.”

             Peace, you see, is not just the mere absence of war or conflict, though most of us would take that. Peace, lasting peace, is the presence of God, a presence that nothing can ever take from you. The heart of the Christmas Gospel is that Jesus is “Emmanuel,” which means “God with us.” God promises never, ever to be God apart from us, and that is why Jesus is our peace.

             Sabina Wurmbrand understood this peace. Her husband Richard was a pastor in the Reformed Church of Romania during World War II. They somehow survived imprisonment by the Nazis. And then, after the war, the communists imprisoned them again as they refused to renounce their faith in Jesus Christ. Richard was placed in one prison, Sabina in another. She writes of incredible sufferings and hardships they endured, doing hard labor, living on bread and soup, starving and freezing in the winters.

             One night Sabina tells of a dream her friend had, where at once she found herself in a great field, open and free. “I felt such a tranquility of spirit. All the earth’s beauty seemed to be gathered in one place.” And in that dream, a voice said to her, “As the lily is among thorns, so is my love among my daughters.” Then she awakened. “But when they banged the rail at five, I got up and went out to work as if I’d been dancing in the fields all night!”

             She found God’s peace in her heart, a peace that nothing could take away from her. This is the peace that Christmas brings! Jesus never promised us easy lives. “In this world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world!” What Jesus did promise is that the darkness will never overcome the light.

             Did you know that there were Japanese soldiers who kept fighting long after the end of World War II? Some did not lay down their weapons until 1958! Why? They didn’t know that peace had come! This is a parable of our world today. The world doesn’t know it, but peace has come. Christ is born. We don’t need to keep fighting. We need to surrender; we need to receive His peace; we need to let Christmas come.

             Jesus is the Prince of Peace. He comes to bring peace on earth and good will toward all. He came, to bring you peace.

                                                                                     Amen.

 

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