“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The 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.
His 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;
but 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.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
The 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.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
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.” Isaiah 11.1-9 (NRSV)
Peace on earth and goodwill to men is not just what the world needs, it is what each of us need. The famous poet Longfellow wrote a poem about this, which he called “Christmas Bells”. After losing his wife and a son, Christmas was not a joyful occasion for him, yet upon hearing the bells chime on Christmas Day, he reflected that his own sorrow was shared by the world. He was also reminded that God’s grace speaks to our sorrow in the gift of his only Son, Jesus Christ, whose birth we celebrate this weekend.
You cannot bring this peace about with force. Does scripture tell of violence? Yes, most assuredly… but every battle is followed by another. Every conquest is followed by a loss to a bigger, badder army. God’s creation in Genesis and the redemption of the world in Revelation are not marked by violence – indeed it is quite the opposite. They are instead marked by submission to Him, and God gets that submission through invitation and offer of a relationship, not through brute force or clever tactics.
The apostles Paul and John perhaps write about it best in their description of God’s primary means of transforming the world. It is, in a word: Love. Not romantic love or any other kind of self-serving emotion… God’s love is self-sacrificial by definition. God, in so many ways wins the war by giving up. He surrenders His only Son to death at our hands and the world is transformed in a moment. Victory is guaranteed. To a worldly way of thinking, this is absolute madness. You cannot gain, let alone protect yourself by giving up… yet this is exactly what God does, and it works far better than anything He might accomplish by force.
Isaiah reminds us that from beginning to end, from Eden to New Jerusalem, God’s desire for our world is peace on earth; goodwill to men. God is willing to surrender anything for that peace to cover us all. What are you willing to surrender for peace?
- What would you be willing to fight to protect in your life?
- Where do you need peace in your life?
- What would you be wililng to surrender to invite God’s peace there?