A Vision of Peace
a message by Dr. Bruce Havens
based on the theme:
“A Miraculous Love”
Arlington Congregational Church, U.C.C.
December 8, 2019
1A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. 2The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. 3His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; 4but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. 5Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. 6The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. 7The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. 9They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
How great is the love that the Father has lavished upon us, that we should be called children of God? And that is what we are! This is the message of the Gospel and Christmas itself. It is a message about the miraculous love of God. That love came to life in Jesus Christ. It is a love that transforms. Through love we can find the gift God wants to give us at Christmas – the gift of community, real, authentic community. At Advent we use the themes of hope, peace, joy, and love. This morning let us look at peace and what it means to us and what it means to God.
Isaiah was writing his vision in the year 700 B.C. His people had been fighting for forty years. First they fought with the Assyrians, then the Egyptians, then the Assyrians, then the Egyptians. All the kids had grown up with a weapon, with a spear in one hand and a sword in the other hand. From a time a kid was three years old, all they were doing was living war. Can you imagine living in Columbia or Palestine or the Sudan today? From the time you were born until the time you die, all you do is learn to kill or be killed. All your life you have been taught to shoot and kill. Can you imagine forty years of that kind of life? That’s the way it was for Isaiah. Isaiah was tired of it. He was tired of four decades of killing. He was tired of kids being trained to kill. He was tired of people fighting. Isaiah longed for peace; the way a thirsty man longs for water or a starving man longs for bread. Isaiah longed for peace because he had experienced so much war. What Isaiah received from God was a vision for peace that was way more than simply the absence of war, or of conflict without weapons. It was a vision of creation transformed.
In the face of the conflict, wars, injustice, and suffering of the earth and its people, God has a vision for peace that means a reordering of creation itself, from doing what is natural,” to doing what God intends. God’s intention is the center of this passage this morning:
They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
We think dog eat dog, survival of the fittest is nature’s way, but God envisions a different nature, a different creation, a different reality, the reality of peace.
The prophet says this peace begins with one who will be a new kind of Ruler. We believe this foretold the coming of Jesus Christ. “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his root.” In short, a new kind of Ruler will come, one in the lineage of David, the mighty – but flawed – King of Israel. This new Ruler will have the Spirit of the Lord [YHWH ] upon him and that spirit will be one of counsel, and strength, and knowledge and “fear of the Lord.”
I think most of us misunderstand that phrase “fear of the Lord.” We think of God as someone to be loved and who loves us and we don’t think of fear and love as being a healthy combination. Or we think we must literally be afraid of God punishing us. I find the explanation of one scholar to be very helpful. He says that the phrase we translate as “fear of the Lord,” is probably better translated as “a fierce knowledge of the Lord,” in other words – knowing God’s nature and God’s presence so strongly that we live as God calls us to live. Isaiah’s envisions God’s Ruler will know what is right and just and faithful so completely it will be like a belt around his waist. The Bible is clear though that this “fierce knowledge of God” is not limited to Rulers but that all of us will have this same fierce knowledge of God. And that knowledge is the center of the vision Isaiah has for peace, a very different vision than we may have when we think of peace. It speaks of all of nature transformed, indeed our very natures transformed – a time when wolves and lambs and lions and baby humans will live in peace – truly all of creation transformed!
The prophecy of Isaiah, the vision of God, goes against what we would assume is the way of the world: a wolf shall live with the lamb, a leopard shall lie down with a baby goat. Sure, says the skeptic, you just need to keep throwing a few fresh baby goats and lambs in there for the predators to eat. What Isaiah is telling us is that God’s vision of peace is grounded in relationships that end the divisions and conflict – even the ones we think of as “natural,” so that we can live in community with one another. More than anything else peace comes when we find ways to create community with one another. But what is God’s vision for community?
Right around us we have some of the truest examples of community, in places we might least expect it. These communities are inspired by the knowledge of God’s love and the vision of God for community. Last Sunday night at the Memorial Service for World AIDS Day one of the speakers reminded us that the theme of this year’s work to end the disease of AIDS is that “it takes a community.” The speaker spoke of a life that had been filled with addiction and abuse and poverty and loneliness. She spoke of how the diagnosis of AIDS brought her into a community of healing and support and love that helped her overcome all of that and live some 30 years longer – married with a grown daughter and filled with faith and love and gratitude for the community she found. Her witness is a reminder to those of us who may not have a life-threatening disease called AIDS, but we live in a world where the fact is we are facing a life-threatening dis-ease called “lack of community.” The conflicts and fears and hatreds that are being used to divide us and to destroy community are truly life-threatening, because the truth is none of us can survive without real community. We may be living and breathing but life is so much more.
This morning we also have here in our presence another vision of the kind of community God intends for all people. The L’Arche community is as real an example of what God intends as I can imagine. Here are people we might think of as lesser, because they are labeled “DIS abled,” living together with caregivers – one-to-one caregiving. Is there a better vision of community? If we can believe that then we can begin to find the key to real community. Because the truth of this to me is the reminder that I am just as “disabled” as anyone. My greatest disabilities include hatred and fear and prejudice and the ways these things cause me to reject the community that God offers.
Christmas reminds us that God continues to offer a love that transforms fear and hatred and prejudice and isolation. When we realize that we are incomplete without community, we will realize we are less, we are the “disabled” ones, then we will understand God’s vision of peace. When we no longer fear someone because of the color of their skin or because they have AIDS or are Mexican, or Muslim, or different in any way then we will begin to be able to create and live in community.
Jesus is called the “Prince of Peace.” We believe he is the shoot that came forth from the root of Jesse, and from the Davidic line who brought this rule to earth. He showed us the God does not want the barriers that keep us from the relationships that create community. He showed us that God does not see barriers in differences of religion or race or nationality or gender. He showed us that God welcomes all people into the community of God’s love. When we let go of those fears that build barriers we will know how to live in community, we will gain love, we will gain life, we will gain peace. This is the mission of the Prince of Peace, whose coming we prepare for, and anticipate today.
Isaiah says this Prince of Peace, this ruler from God, will do what is just and right, will treat the poor and meek with honor and value as much as the rich and the powerful. Of course, this vision remains unfulfilled. Evil still flourishes, the poor and meek remain afflicted, predators continue to kill their prey, violence is still done on God’s holy mountain, and the earth is far from being “full of the knowledge of the Lord.” We might look at what is and what isn’t and conclude that Jesus’ ministry fell short. Was Jesus a failed messiah? No, but we may have to recognize that God will not complete this miracle of love without our participation. God does not force us to accept community, nor does God force us to live in peace. But God puts the vision of peace before us and asks us to see it and seek to live it.
God offers us the gift of community – what our souls most long for. If we choose it then our responsibility is to seek to live by God’s vision of peace. The peace of God always begins with the Spirit of the Prince of Peace living inside of us. There is no replacement for that. When the Spirit of the Prince of Peace begins to live inside of us, we choose to turn from conflict and hatred toward seeking community and living as lovingly as Christ. Each of us needs to evaluate whether we have that Spirit inside of us, or if we just give it lip-service on Sunday.
In order to live by God’s vision of peace and to have the community of love that God intends we must pay attention to Isaiah’s words. He speaks of righteousness in his vision for peace. When the Prince of Peace lives inside of us, we will seek to live in right relationships at every level. Righteousness calls us to treat other with gentleness, kindness, and respect. Respecting others means we don’t dehumanize them. We don’t focus on our differences, but on our common human value. To have true community requires us to work towards righteousness in all relationships. You cannot have peace without righteousness. You just can’t, not in a home or a school, not in a workplace or in a nation. We cannot have peace between nations without righteousness, right relationships among people - who live in families, schools, offices, factories, nations, and on earth.
This righteousness requires what Isaiah calls “equity” in all our relationships too. That is what we call “justice,” or equal rights for all people. Today way too many people get confused about this. They think that giving others equal rights means losing some of their “rights.” The reality is many of these assumed rights are just privileges that have come because others did not have equal rights. If we are ever to find true equity, true community we must rethink our understanding of what “rights” we have and which ones are actually privileges that come at the price of others “rights.” The conflicts in our national community will never be solved until we learn this truth and fully correct the inequities that cause some to suffer.
The miracle of God’s love is that it creates the vision for us to live in peace and it promises the fulfillment of that vision. But we must seek this peace and pursue it. Isaiah tells us what it takes to find peace. If we want peace, let us begin by striving for community – right relationships with all of God’s people. It begins when we see God’s vision of peace revealed in Jesus Christ, his son, our Lord and Savior and then seek to live out that vision. AMEN.