We’ve talked lately about how unstable life feels for many people right now. Maybe we’ve got some election hangover, or there might be other challenging things going on for you. Some hard things always seem to happen around the holidays. Doesn’t that always seem to be the case? You couldn’t be in a better place and there could not be a better time to lock into what Christmas means.
War was just around the corner when God gave Isaiah a vision of peace. This vision was about the coming of a Messiah, and this Messiah is a kind of superhero, but not like any superhero you’re used to. Name some superheroes – and what are their powers? Well, this superhero is different. When you hear what Isaiah says, lock into a phrase or a verse that means something to you…
A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse [Jesse is the father of King David, so that means the Messiah is descended from David], and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
2 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.
3 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;
4 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.
5 Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
6 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.
7 The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
9 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.
10 On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.
What words found their place in your mind? This Messiah seems to be all about peace. Our superheroes use their powers to defeat enemies with violence, right? Not this one. The Messiah brings the power of peace. Jesus brings the power of peace and doesn’t keep it for himself – he gives it away! Isaiah paints a picture of peace so powerful that even animals get along.
You know, our first dog – a golden retriever – despised cats. The nicest dog ever, especially around people, especially around kids. But somewhere in him was a hair trigger for cats, and he took on a vicious personality if he saw a cat in the yard or outside a window. And the cats would walk by the house just to taunt him. You know how cats are!
But our current dog (Pumpkin the Corgi) doesn’t seem to mind cats. When Jamie’s cat is in the house, she just thinks that other animal is interesting. They pretty much ignore each other. They seem to have an “understanding,” but definitely do not have a cuddly relationship. Sometimes the cat will walk over to the dog, who might be sleeping, and give her a swat across the snout. Just because. And the dog backs off – “I don’t want any trouble!” Have any of you had a dog and cat living together at your house? I know it’s pretty common. Most of the time they figure it out. Some scientists are studying inter-species relationships…
If you do a search for “unlikely friends,” you’ll find a lot of videos and photos. I know that animals are much friendlier if they don’t feel threatened, or if they aren’t hungry, or if they think the other animal wouldn’t make for a good meal! And I’d guess that if these animals are raised together, they might get along. It’s even easier to find photos and video clips of animals attacking each other, because this is what they do to survive. Some animals are food for other animals. God made them this way.
This is the only photo of “unlikely friends” that I’ve ever captured. An oxpecker bird sits on the head of an impala. The impala doesn’t seem to mind because it’s distracted. If it’s not paying attention, it will become a meal for the leopard about 40 yards away!
How about people? Most of our natural enemies seem to be other people. God created us for peace, and we learn to do war. I remember when our oldest son – I think he was about three – saw violence on TV for the first time. He was shocked, and demanded we change the channel or turn off the television.
None of us starts out with a heart for conflict. We learn it. We shouldn’t be unlikely friends! Among people, and God loves people (yes, God has huge love for you and me), peace is a big deal. And I believe that as we learn conflict and disregard for others, God weeps. But if we are at war, especially if it’s war within ourselves, God can bring a peace transplant.
When Jesus was born, do you remember what the angels said? Let’s be angels for a moment! Say it together…
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” (Luke 2:14)
And for people who believe in Jesus, this is not just the absence of fear or conflict…
Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)
Do you remember the animals in Isaiah’s list? Wolf, lamb, leopard, goat (kid), etc….
For Isaiah, when the Messiah comes, he comes with “the fear of the Lord,” (being in awe of God) and brings peace, so much peace that even animals who are natural enemies are getting along. The world floating in a big sea of peace.
…for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:9)
The animals in Isaiah’s list are a picture of what can happen when people believe. People are supposed to be smarter than animals, right? But we seem to love a fight. It isn’t just history; turn on the news at 6, or whenever you can watch it. Why do we see so much violence? Against our better spirit, we learn to love it, like an addiction.
But the Messiah comes to bring an intervention, to break that addiction, which we all know we hate. The people at war no longer fight – why? Because the Messiah is their king. When the Messiah comes, when the Messiah is their king, they will all have the same ruler. When Jesus is the Lord of a bunch of people, what does that look like?
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. John 13:35
That’s what happens when the king is in control. Isaiah is talking about a king who will change the basic nature of things. How does that work? Having a king means giving up control. We have to decide: Do we want a king/messiah – a LORD – who changes the basic nature of things, even us?
For the leopard to lie down with the baby goat, both have to be changed. It takes two. It is easy to say, “Hey there, leopard, you have to change your ways and quit eating all those baby goats.” But the baby goat also has to start trusting it’s natural enemy.
It’s not natural, and Isaiah knows it. It takes a supernatural force – somebody with a kind of superpower. When Christmas time comes, it’s Isaiah who calls the Messiah the “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace” (9:6). And at Easter, it’s Isaiah who says, “he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.” (53:5)
The Messiah comes as a child called the “Prince of Peace” and is rejected as an adult we call the “Man of Sorrows.” They are the same person.
So this isn’t the kind of king who conquers us. This king gives us a choice, and if we make the choice to belong to this king, we can be different; we can have that amazing peace, the peace that passes understanding.
Jesus the Messiah changes our nature when we have faith. The Messiah brings enemies together; the Messiah can bring people together, especially the people who are in conflict – if the Messiah is the king of both of them.
This is part when I could make a list of our own natural enemies – the things and people that attack us, the things and the people in our lives that give us trouble, but I will let you do that. But in order for things to change in a more permanent way, the Messiah has to be the God and king of both sides. Now, God may not change others, or change the world around us, but God can change us. This Christmas, let the Messiah come to you. If you tell someone about the difference Christ has made in your life, that might be the best gift they’ve ever received.
O God, sometimes the world seems like such a dark place. We see pain and hurt in our relationships, in our living with our memories. We know there is pain and hurt across our country, in the darkness and corners of the world. But your light comes and shines in the darkest night. You bring reconciliation and forgiveness.
Make us strong enough to stand on our faith in the Prince of Peace. Make us sensitive enough to see signs of new life and help it grow. Make us crazy enough to jump with joy when friendships happen. Make us bold enough to love you openly and sing carols to the whole world. Let your light shine in us and through us. Amen