Peace on Earth?
Promises. They give us hope. They help us see ahead. And perhaps they help us make sense of the world around us.
Yet, broken promises fill me with a kind of discouragement and revulsion that lingers like a festering wound. Promises need to be kept. Every child looking at her parent believes the same. Every desperate member of society looks to his leaders for it. Empty promises bring only sadness mixed with a deep desire for justice, which was not given.
There are promises made in an ancient and familiar verse that at times can feel far from fulfilled. This idyllic poem promises no more darkness and shame for a people. Instead, light will come. With this light will come joy, joy as when there is food for a great feast and days of celebration, joy as when property is offered with open hands and shared by all. This day will lift the burdens on the shoulders of the people and break the power of those who would oppress them. The battles and the memories of them will disappear.
Light. Joy. Freedom. Peace. Those are the promises.
I’ll admit it sounds like fantasy literature, written for another world but without any power for changing reality. 2017 has been a hard year for many. It’s been a hard year to read the news. Just this morning I read about another bomb set off in a crowded commuter station. This week friends I care about live in a country where getting food and medical care is questioned most days, and they have little options for escape. The battles have not stopped. The memories of them haven’t either, even if courts on war-crimes close.
Real Promises for Us
But this isn’t a fictional dream for a made-up world. It isn’t just a hopeful wishing. It is a set of promises. This poem is Isaiah 9, the one you will likely read or sing this week. The very next stanza tells us the most familiar of the lines:
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be on his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forever more. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.” (Is. 9:6-7)
This stanza gives the answer to these promises, and it begins at the Incarnation, at the coming of a baby. It is to bring a stable kingdom, a powerful and good King, and forever justice. He would bring peace. If we really believe these words from Isaiah 9, then we must see all these coming from Christmas. It can feel hard to fathom at times, but these are not empty promises as we may have feared. But how is Christmas the fulfillment of these promises?
Real Promises for Today
When Jesus came, he was the light that shone to the people. (John 1:5) He came to the same land that was listed in Isaiah 9:1-2; he set up his ministry center in the disgraced land of Galilee. It was there that he spoke into the darkness of this broken and sinful world. It was joy he brought as he explained the way of true life. He proclaimed freedom and unity and rightness. (Luke 4:18-19) He was the great king and Son of God, given the kingdom to rule forever. (Luke 1:31-33) Jesus came in his incarnation and brought us light and joy, for God himself drew near to people. He offered forgiveness through his life, death, and resurrection. His freedom was the freedom from the oppressors of sin and death and a given transformation, so we would fight the oppression we too are tempted to use against others.
And peace? What about peace? I think Zechariah under the power of the Spirit said it well, “Because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79) Jesus was the full embodiment of peace, as he was the mercy of God come to us. Peace defined by no more war between God and man. Peace purchased through suffering. Peace that transforms. Peace that he would leave with us. (John 14:27) But it is a chosen peace. It is a peace that our feet must decide to walk into by faith revealed by the light, as Zechariah said. Jesus brings peace to those who receive him. Jesus brings a peace of the rightful authority of God over the human heart so that we chose to live in justice and righteousness.
And that kingdom of peace? The one that will not end? That’s what looks so far off when I mourn with dear ones and recognize what is happening all around us. Our Mighty King Jesus did come at Christmas, and he is ruling in his kingdom today. But there is more yet to come. These promises are not empty, they are simply not entirely fulfilled yet. The work of justice and righteousness is not complete, but one day a kingdom that is fully peace will reign upon this earth. The zeal of our fighting God will do this.
Until then, Christmas is still the celebration of the Son given to us. Who is this baby? He is the Peace-bringer. He is still our hope, joy, and freedom. The promises are not broken; they will be kept. Peace will come to earth.