“What do you want to be when you grow up?’ That’s a question many adults will ask children. And, as a parent, when our children were younger (and still today) we speculate on what these young people will grow to be. What interests and talents do they have? What type of person will they mature into?
The prophet Isaiah had many prophecies concerning the long-awaited Messiah. Today’s passage is frequently read at Christmas, a rather accurate prediction of the coming of Christ. What titles will be given, and have been given, to Jesus?
The Jewish people had expected a Messiah for centuries, but the image of this savior was often that of a mighty king who would come in conquest to overthrow the yoke of oppression and tyranny. “Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end” (verse 7) applies to him. Words such as “he will come in power” were also used.
But the power and the government that were realized in Jesus were not those of war and domination through force. Instead, the power of Christ was to bring the power of love and mercy and forgiveness. What did Jesus, the son who was given, grow up to be? He grew to be a teacher of peace and love.
The birth of Jesus was a gift from God, offered to a fallen humanity in an attempt and an effort to reconcile man to God. Through sin all people are estranged from God, forbidden to be in His presence. But through the teaching, life and sacrifice of Jesus that chasm between us and the Almighty is bridged. We are brought into God’s presence because God has provided a way for that to happen.
So, the last title – “Prince of Peace” – may be the greatest. Jesus brought peace, or at least the opportunity for peace, to all people. And that peace comes about not through military conquest, not by dominating an opponent, but through spirituality.
By obeying the commands of God, by trusting in Christ as Savior, the peace is achieved, first inwardly, in our hearts. The peace conquers not our enemies, but our own fears and failings. Then, when we have attained this peace, we can share it with others.
DALY CHALLENGE: How will you share God’s peace with others this year?
I would imagine that if I asked you to try really hard you would be able to list just about every gift you might receive this year. Some people in our lives give the same gift or same type of gift each Christmas. You can count on something hand-made from Sister Sophie; you can count on something crass from Uncle Bob; and so on.
What we often forget is that we are constant recipients of gifts from God, but these gifts are not what we may be accustomed to getting. Who will be helping the disciples after Jesus is gone? What will the Holy Spirit do for them? What gift is Jesus giving?
This passage is part of the Last Supper, and Jesus is preparing the disciples for the time when he will be gone. Jesus knew they would be facing some emotionally low times – times of fear and loneliness and loss.
He begins this section by giving a promise. The disciples will not be left alone for very long. The Holy Spirit will come to them soon and they will be transformed.
Then Jesus gives another gift – peace. And it is interesting that in speaking of that peace Jesus calls it “my peace.”
How is the peace that Jesus has different from any other peace? I believe it is a spiritual peace, a peace that only Jesus had. Jesus was able to accept all that was happening to him and would happen to him because he knew the Father. He knew that God was truly with him and would be with him in all things.
Then he says that he does not give the way the world gives. Perhaps he meant that his gift is not something that will be used up or fade away. It will not grow stale or become broken. It will not become a tired tradition you encounter each year.
Instead, the peace of Christ is an ever-flowing, ever new, ever refreshing experience that brings joy to our souls and not just our hearts.
If we can live in the surety and confidence of knowing our Lord and Savior, if we can trust in the Father as Christ did, we too can receive peace. It will be a continuous gift, not like gifts in the world, and will keep our hearts from being troubled. It will keep us from fear.
DAILY CHALLENGE: Give yourself the gift of the Bible passage that gives you the most peace. Write it down and put it where you will see it every day this holiday season.
One of my favorite movies is “Big Jake,” with John Wayne. In it Jake, John Wayne, works with his sons to rescue his grandson. Part of the problem is that Jake’s sons don’t have a close relationship with their father.
At one point Jake’s friend, somewhat aggravated with them, offers some advice. He tells the sons “Do what your father tells you, every time he tells you, and you might get out of this alive.”
As we progress with the Christmas story and the angels who visit, we reach the time where Joseph is visited by an angel. What complication has arisen according to verse 18? How will Joseph deal with it? What does the angel tell him? Why is this happening? What does Joseph do?
The author of Matthew is closely linked to the Old Testament. Throughout the book there are many references to Old Testament scripture and prophecies. So it is fitting that Joseph’s story would be told here.
Joseph was apparently a devout Jew, faithful and righteous. For one, we know he was chosen to be the mortal father of Jesus. But we also see indications of his goodness – he was going to avoid scandal and shame through a “quiet” divorce. Out of respect for Mary (and God) he had no relations with her as a husband until after the baby was born.
But most important is Joseph’s faithful obedience. As a devout and faithful Hebrew he knew of the predictions and prophecies of the Messiah and he obeyed the angel without question. He knew that this child was the most important life to ever enter into the world, and he respected God by doing what he was told.
Big Jake had sons who had never learned to trust him. They had not had an opportunity to build their faith in him. Joseph, however, was ready to trust his heavenly father.
What gave Joseph the ability to obey without question? I believe it was his faith and trust in God. He had peace in his heart because he knew that God would fulfill His promises, and that if God commanded him to obey Joseph would do just that.
We need that same peace in our hearts. As we prepare to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace, as we acknowledge the peace on earth God gives, let us have the peace of trusting that God is loving and merciful. Like Joseph, let us remember the scriptures that tell us of God’s wonderful grace.
DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you show your trust in God this holiday season?
Another pastor who had to do a difficult funeral recently shared how she was tense as she approached the pulpit, but felt the presence of God when it was time to begin. Her fears were released and she was fine.
It is something I have felt on many occasions myself. I have felt the very presence of God enter and give me a peace that transcends all comprehension.
What does Paul say about anxiety? How can we avoid this anxiety? What will the peace of God do?
Unfortunately Christmas can be a time of nothing but anxiety for many people (I often have anxiety-filled holidays). There is stress and worry over the finances of buying so many gifts. There is anxiety over getting the right thing for everyone, or at least SOMETHING for everyone. Even attending parties can be a source of stress – because it can come with a sense of obligation in an already full schedule.
But this is not the purpose of Christmas. The time of Christmas should not be a time of anxiety and worry, but a time when we focus our attention on the gift of Jesus, a gift intended to bring peace, not fear.
We should remember the reason for the birth of Christ. He was born to reconcile man to God, to cast away fears and doubts and be an assurance and a comfort to us all.
Paul’s words to the Philippians are God’s words to us as well. We should not be anxious about anything. We should not worry or fret about things. Instead, we should give all to God and trust in His great mercy and love. If there is an issue that does cause us concern, we should present it in prayer to God and then let Him resolve the issue.
When we can trust in God and trust that He is taking care of us, then we will receive that indescribable, unexplainable peace that comes from knowing we are in God’s hands and all will be well.
DAILY CHALLENGE: What holiday worry can you hand over to God?
Part of Sunday’s worship service was a time of greeting which included the question – “What gift do you hope for the most?” The person I greeted said simply, “world peace.”
What a wonderful gift that would be if there was indeed peace in the world. How wonderful if wars would stop, violence would end, and differences between people could either be accepted or settled without hostility.
This is the image presented in Isaiah. What will God do? What will the people do? What will nations NOT do?
The time of Christmas is that time in life when the impossible seems possible. It is easy to imagine in the stillness of a winter’s night as we look on soft lights of decorations that peace is possible. It is possible that God will allow the world to get along, to have no disputes, to eliminate weapons.
The concluding verse in today’s reading is an invitation. “Let us walk in the light of the Lord.” If we could all walk in the light of God, that is in His love and wisdom, if we could walk the way God wants us to walk – as people who love and care for others – then we may indeed reach that point where peace will come on earth.
When Jesus was born I am sure that most people believed the impossible was just that – impossible. But we know that is not true. The impossible IS possible. God could become human. God could provide a way for us to be reconciled to Him.
If we cling to the knowledge that with God all things are possible, and if we focus on what Christmas is all about – God wanting to mend that relationship between us and Him – then the idea of peace presented in Isaiah is closer to becoming reality.
DAILY CHALLENGE: What can you do this week to walk in the light of the Lord?