A New Year’s Message from the Prince of Peace

Matthew 6:24-34

The Challenge of Mammon and Human-size gods
The Prince of Peace (Isa 9:6; Lk 2:14) speaks on a mountain to crowds of poor laborers, farmers, sick people, about the in-breaking of God’s rule. Seek God’s kingdom now! (Mk 1:15; Mt 6:10)
Israel’s ancient prophets attacked idolatry. It was about the people’s desire for human-size gods they can bargain with, get stuff from. It was also about reality. Serve Baal to get fertility and you serve nothing. Self-deception. The one living God is already there freely creating that fertility. But no bargain. God’s purposes are larger than fertility.
Jesus says, “You cannot serve God and Mammon.” Mammon is Aramaic for ‘stuff,’ ‘money,’ ‘what you trust.’ Jesus personifies it as the god who offers to supply all that. Matthew and Luke leave it as a god’s name. Mammon is the practical, powerful, human-size god who promises to provide all and secure all who serve him. He is money, power, sex, intellect, control, family, race, violence, war, progress, greed, etc. He’s the default god of humanity. We anxiously serve without realizing. (David Foster Wallace, “This is Water” 2005).

Proclaiming Peace to Far and Near

Ephesians 2:14-22

Advent: He came with Good News of Peace
Isaiah looked with hope for God’s intervention – a child, Prince of Peace (Isa 9:6). The angel at Jesus’ birth echoed his words: to you is born a baby in a trough, Savior, Messiah, Lord.
What is a Prince of Peace? One who imposes peace – Augustus? Paul’s Advent meditation points to Jesus coming to proclaim peace (Isa 52:7) to those far and near (Isa 57:19).
But Jesus is not just the messenger or a conquering power commanding peace. Paul says Jesus himself is our peace. He’s writing to people in societies of intense conflict, with deep societal divisions and fears: Jew-Gentile, Roman-Greek-other ethnic groups, slave- free, male-female. Acts 19 show explosive fears, superstitions, and conflicts in Ephesus.
Paul had seen the how Jesus (as message and active presence) had brought together Jews, Romans, Greeks, the enslaved, the fearful into a new unity. It was who Jesus is – his life, message, cross, resurrection, Spirit – that embodied a new Adam, human being, the Suffering Servant of Isa 53, and that showed God’s purpose to unite everything in him.

A Guide in the Way of Peace

Isaiah 52:7-10, Luke 1:68,70, 76-79

What Would a Prince of Peace Look Like?
In the context of Advent, the vision of a Prince of Peace may seem obvious. But in Jesus’ time, Augustus Caesar was the great prince of Peace, conquering all: peace under Rome.
Jews chafed under his appointed rulers over the land. God, not Herod or Pilate should rule. Where was Isaiah’s promise: “Your God is King”? When would “the coming one” come?
Jesus’ whole story is that coming (Advent): Birth, ministry, passion, resurrection, all of it. People thought they knew what they were looking for – their own holy, good Augustus. After all, who is a more absolute king than God? They were ready to join the revolution. Jesus comes calling followers to “the Kingdom of God.” What else could it mean?

Longing for a Prince of Peace

Isaiah 9:1-7

Longing for Peace in a Fear-filled World
We focused our Retreat on the call to be Fearless. This Advent season we are centering on one of its most basic, comforting, challenging ideas: Peace. The two interact together. We start from Isaiah’s celebration of the birth of a child (Handel’s Messiah, Isa 9:6). In the NT this passage echoes in Luke’s narrative of Jesus’ birth, in Matthew’s description of the start of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus is this “Prince of Peace.” But what does it mean?
Isaiah began prophesying in a time of powers pressing in on Judah (Israel, Syria, Assyria). Peace was a dream. A son is born in the Davidic royal family, possibly Hezekiah born to Ahaz. That child is a symbol of hope in a time of disaster. The prophet gives him the long prophetic name: Pele-yoets El-gibor Aviad Shar-shalom. Like the famous prophecy of a virgin conceiving (Isa 7:14; Mt 1:23), these words had an impact in their own time.