Welcome to SBD. A joy to see you here.
I’d like us to look for a few minutes at the the prophecy of Isaiah 9 written 700 years before the birth of Christ. which was our second reading (you may want to have a look at it again). The great theme of Isaiah’s prophecy is PEACE.
Isaiah looks and he sees… PEACE breaking upon his nation. Breaking out over what we now call the middle east. Darkness and oppression and the shadow of death give way to dawning light, freedom and rejoicing. Isaiah sees the end of war. Enduring peace.
And why? how?
v6…For to us a child is born, to us a son is given and the government will be on his shoulders… of the increase of his government and PEACE there will be no end..
When the angel visits the shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus Christ this is precisely the accompanying anthem: Glory to God in the highest and on earth PEACE…
Now you might say .. Ok Jesus Christ was born and lived, history at least backs that up. But Peace? One of the great barriers to belief in God is the sufferings of this world. We’re sick of the sorrow, sick of the pain, sick of hearing again and again that there’s gonna be … peace on earth…
But please stay with me… God is not indifferent to our sorrows and our pain. In fact he has taken them upon his shoulders for the sake of our peace.
Peace is of course a much broader category than just the absence of war. In Hebrew thinking Shalom described total wellbeing: harmony between the nations, within society and family and even harmony with your own self.
For all our great advances in wealth and technology we find it more difficult than ever to find peace.
Peace eludes us. This Christmas the conflicts in the very nations where Isaiah sees peace: Israel, Iraq, Syria… they continue to degenerate into an inhuman brutality.
Brexit and the US elections have exposed deep divides and growing intolerance in western societies. Families and relationships wilt under the pressure.
And our own hearts are mostly restless.
I read somewhere that the average spend on Christmas presents for children this year will be £400. And the average time those toys will actually be played with before interest is lost? 2 weeks. And we adults are no different are we? We all pursue things to answer the restless yearning of our hearts briefly satisfying our desires..the restlessness comes back. There’s an absence of peace. A great gulf..
Why? Why are we like this? Why the conflict, why the division? why the emptiness?
Surely we ask ourselves why?
Here’s the Bible’s explanation. We are like this because there is a God who made us and yet we have wandered from him. We’ve forgotten God. Losing God’s wisdom and counsel we are each left to govern ourselves - a yoke that burdens us. Wandering far we find ourselves lost.. lost in the valley of the shadow of death. Cut off from God’s life we cannot live fully, spiritually.
So, we’re a bit like Christmas trees.. We smell good for a while, We can dress ourselves up to look great on the outside. But uprooted.. we are dying. Spiritually..we are dying.
We have turned our backs on God.. each taken government on our own shoulders - that’s why we clash, that’s why we divide, that’s why we have no peace…
But here is good news of hope and great joy…
God has not turned his back on us.
To us a child is born, to us a son is given and the government will be on his shoulders.
Nothing changes life like a baby. If you’re a parent you’ll know exacltly what I mean. How is it that one so small can turn your world upside down? Well this child turns the entire world upside down.
Choosing names for a child is a big responsibility isn’t it? For many of us in our grandparents generation the names of choice were Mabel and Albert and Winifred. When i grew up in Essex in the 1970s everyone was either called Gary or Sharon. And now things have come full circle and we’re back to Ada and Alfred again. I heard of a tribe in New Guinea who also loved to use English for their babies names but without having a clue what the words meant so one man was called second gear while his good friend went by the name of tinned-fish.
Names are important. You carry your name through life. Names can place expectations on a child.
Well, what about the names this Christmas child, Jesus, is given!
He shall be called… Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace..
You can imagine the scene down the local shopping center- people crowding round Mary and Joseph cooing at the new baby ‘aww isn’t he lovely ..what’s his name?’ … Well actually we’ve called him ‘Mighty.. Mighty God..”
What do these extraordinary names mean?
Well, the names tell us how the child brings Peace..
He is Wonderful Counselor. Here is the idea of wisdom. Light for those in darkness. Read a gospel again this Christmas - we have some you can take at the back for free - and just listen to the words of Jesus. And it’s not just his words. Jesus is the wisdom of God which confounds the wisdom of the world. The world says that we solve our problems through power, force, wealth. We idolize the strong and the impressive. But God comes to us as a child, he sets aside his glory and power and wealth and takes upon himself our flesh, he shares our sorrows, he takes the government upon his shoulders - our darkness our problems.. He is wonderful counselor.
He is Mighty God. That word mighty is the Hebrew word for ‘hero’. He is the hero God. Why is it that acts of courage and heroism - the Olympic games; our greatest stories of life laying down love - why do they move us so? Because they all point to the greatest act of heroic love. God came to die for us. On the cross Jesus Christ takes the consequences for all our ignoring of God onto his shoulders that we might be free..
Everlasting Father. Look in the manger, the newborn baby, his tiny fingers and toes - this is who God is. We have all kinds of thoughts about God don’t we? We think of God as distant or angry and disapproving. A God of judgement. Here’s the thing - our darkness and rebellion does deserve God’s judgement. But this is our God - lying in a manger, hanging on a cross. He comes.. he takes the judgement that is ours upon his shoulders.
You know what this is? It is the action of a perfect Father towards his child. A good Father, in love, will do anything for his child.. even, or perhaps especially, for a wayward child.
Incredibly the baby in the manger is your everlasting Father…
And he is Prince of Peace. Vladimir Putin? Xi Jinping? Donald Trump? Jesus Christ is on the throne of the world. He is establishing his peace on earth - i’ll say a bit about that in a moment. And one day, the Scriptures promise, he will come again in glory to fully establish justice and Peace How we long for that day. We need it now but he holds back for the present - why? because he waits for people like you and me to be reconciled to him.
See, it’s To you that a child is born. To you a son is given.
He came for you. Discover what it means to know him. This New Year - maybe come along to our Open to Question group in the Prince Arthur. It’s designed for skeptics and seekers. no one will know (details on the beer mats).
As I end let me tell you about Maryam Benham. She is an eleven year old Iraqui Christian girl who fled the slaughter of ISIS in her home city of Mosul. When asked "What are your feelings towards those who drove you out of your home and caused you hardships?” Maryam responded, "I won't do anything to them, I will only ask God to forgive them. .. You have to forgive them. Jesus is my father, and He is my creator. I have no one else better than him.”
Here is how Jesus Christ even now establishes his kingdom of peace.
When the light breaks upon you that you have been forgiven at great cost then you find resources to forgive - yourself and others whatever the cost. The cycle of violence is broken.
When the light breaks upon you that you are loved by God beyond your deepest imaginings - then the yoke of trying to govern your own life is shattered.. You’re free.
And If to you this child has been given then truly you want for nothing, forever... your heart can finally rest…