Sabbath Day Thoughts — “The Promise of Peace” Isaiah 11:1-9
On this second Sunday in Advent, we light the candle of peace. Yet peace feels hard to come by this year. Tensions are high on the Korean Peninsula as Kim Jong Un escalates weapons testing and the South responds with further sanctions. In Ukraine, as troops recover territory once occupied by Russian invaders, they discover a trail of human rights abuses left behind. All the while, the Russian missiles fall, destroying Ukraine’s power and energy infrastructure as winter approaches.
We long for peace within our nation. We are wearied by the polarization that casts our political rivals as mortal enemies. We are heartbroken by the continuing tide of gun violence. 611 mass shootings this year have wounded 3,179 people and taken 637 lives. We are frightened by the rise in hate. Last month’s shooting in Colorado Springs is the most recent attack in growing violence against our LGBTQ neighbors. Dark memories of the Holocaust stir amid a surge of antisemitic rhetoric by celebrities, athletes, and politicians.
We long for peace in our homes. Christmas reminds us of the wounds that every family bears. Our thoughts brush up against our estranged kin, once a part of our holiday joy and now a painful memory of alienation. As we put on a good show for the gathered clan, we may struggle in marriages grown strained and distant. We’ll face long-held patterns of family dysfunction: our drunken uncle, the harshly critical parent, the debt-burdened shopaholic.
We light the candle of peace this morning, longing for the peace of our world, our nation, and our homes.
In the 8th century BC, when Isaiah spoke God’s promise of a coming king and a transformed world, the Hebrew people were far from peace. The Assyrian Empire was ascendant, marching out of the north like a swarm of locusts. They excelled at war, having mastered the art of forging iron weapons that were far superior to the bronze-age armaments of their enemies. The armies of Assyria had engineering units to set up ladders and ramps, fill in moats, and dig tunnels to breach walled cities. They were among the first to build chariots, which provided greater mobility and protection on the battlefield. One by one, the cities of the ancient near east fell to the advancing Assyrian tide.
On a national front, the Israelites knew little of peace. David may have united the twelve tribes of Israel, but within a few generations, the alliance had crumbled. The Hebrew people had divided into two nations, the Kingdom of Israel to the north and the Kingdom of Judah to the south. They were often at odds, allying with greater powers on the world stage to the detriment of one another. As the Assyrian army drew near, Judah refused the call to arms to help their northern brothers. City by city, the Kingdom of Israel fell and its people were defeated and deported.
According to the Prophet Isaiah, peace was hard to find on the home front. In oracle after oracle, the prophet denounced a people who “called evil good and good evil” (5:20). They worshipped false gods. They loved graft and chased after bribes. They failed to defend the rights of the fatherless and refused to give justice to widows (1:23).
Over and against this backdrop of conflict and division, the Prophet Isaiah described the peace that would prevail when the Messiah came and the priorities of God’s Kingdom prevailed. According to Isaiah, on that glorious day the nation would be ruled with wisdom, understanding, and fear of the Lord. Righteousness would abound and justice would be served. In a wonderful act of rhetorical exaggeration, Isaiah cast the vision of a new Eden unfolding as the peaceable human kingdom overflowed to all creation. Wolf and lamb, calf and lion, all would live in harmony.
Isaiah reminded the Hebrew people that God’s longing for our world is peace with justice and righteousness for all. Isaiah held out the hope that when God’s people choose to live in accord with God’s will, they can flourish. It’s a vision that must have sounded like music to the ears of Isaiah’s listeners. It’s a bold picture of peaceful possibility that continues to speak to our imaginations, here and now.
When the early church read the words of the Prophet Isaiah, they recognized Jesus in Isaiah’s description of the Messiah. Jesus, with his deep wisdom and keen understanding of God’s law, Jesus with his deep piety and reverence, Jesus with his care for the sick and heart for the outsider, Jesus would embody those character traits of Isaiah’s coming king. Jesus would embrace peace by welcoming strangers, sinners, and enemies. He would walk the path of non-violence, turning the other cheek to his accusers and praying for his executioners. As those first Christians carried the Way of Jesus out into the Roman Empire, they knew that the peaceable kingdom persisted whenever wisdom and understanding, piety and love of the Lord were shared and embraced.
On the second Sunday of Advent, Isaiah’s promise of the coming king and his peaceable kingdom remind us that the gap between the world that we have made for ourselves and the world that God would have us make can be bridged. We can choose to live in accord with God’s promise of peace. Indeed, when we live with faith and integrity as followers of Jesus, we invite God’s future into our present. The peaceable kingdom awaits those who would serve it even now.
We can strive for the peace of our world. We may not be able to bring Russia and Ukraine to the bargaining table, but we have worked for world peace all year long. We have been seeking a path to bring an at-risk Afghan family from Kabul to America. We have provided much-needed care and support for vulnerable infants at the Crisis Care Nursery in Mzuzu. Through CROP Walk, we have sought to address the root causes of hunger around the globe with the programs of Church World Service. This Christmas, we will bless our African neighbors with the gift of clean water as we receive a special offering for the Shallow Well program of Marion Medical Mission. These are the things that make for world peace.
We can strive for the peace of our nation. We may not be able to break the rancor and gridlock of Washington, but we can choose to make a personal difference for good. We can refuse to call those whose opinions differ from ours “enemies.” Our dialog can be grounded in mutual respect, and we can keep the lines of communication open, even when we disagree. We can practice non-violence and call on our elected officials to enact responsible gun legislation. We can stand with vulnerable minorities and speak out against hateful speech that incites violence. These are the things that make for a more peaceful nation.
We can strive for the peace of our families. This could be the year that we let bygones be bygones and reconcile with our estranged kin. We can remember that God is at the heart of our marriage covenant and seek together to reclaim that holy center for our shared life. We can meet those intractable family dysfunctions with love, openness, and a desire for change. Stop filling the glass of your drunken uncle. Beg to differ with that hyper-critical parent. Give your family shopaholic a copy of Bill McKibben’s book Hundred Dollar Holiday and encourage them to resist the relentless onslaught of commercials and catalogs that try to say Christmas is only Christmas if it comes from a store. These are the things that make for a more peaceful family.
This morning, we light the candle of peace and choose to live in accord with God’s promise of the peaceable kingdom. Can you imagine it with me?
The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon us, with wisdom and understanding,
counsel and strength, knowledge and a healthy fear of the Lord.
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation.
Ukraine and Russia, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, North and South Korea, all will come to the table of peace.
The hungry shall be filled, refugees will be welcomed, vulnerable babies will be blessed,
and clean water shall flow down in an unstoppable tide.
Ears will be opened. Truth will be spoken. Democrats will break bread with Republicans,
Libertarians will find common cause with Progressives, and the DC gridlock shall come to an end.
We’ll beat our guns into ploughshares, trade our hate speech for songs of praise, and all God’s people will know safety and dignity.
There will be a balm in Gilead for the healing of our families.
We’ll reach out with a willingness to forgive and be forgiven, and the hatchet of enmity will be forever buried.
We’ll renew our vows and honor our children. We’ll love more. We’ll forgive often. We’ll judge less.
The land will be as full of the knowledge of the Lord as the sea is filled with water,
and all will be well in these holy mountains,
and all God’s people will say,
Eli J. Finkel and Cynthia S. Wang. “The Political Divide in America Goes Beyond Polarization and Tribalism” Kellogg Insight, April 20, 2022. Accessed online at https://insight.kellogg.northwestern.edu/
National Geographic Society. “Assyrian Empire.” In National Geographic Resource Library, May 20, 2022. Accessed online at https://education.nationalgeographic.org/
Barbara Lundblad. “Commentary on Isaiah 11:1-9” in Preaching This Week, Dec. 8, 2013. Accessed online at https://www.workingpreacher.org/
Michael Chan. “Commentary on Isaiah 11:1-9” in Preaching This Week, Dec. 4, 2016. Accessed online at https://www.workingpreacher.org/
11A 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.