Prince of peace
By Tyler Tankersley
During this season, I like to listen to Handel's Messiah at least once. It's a stirring collection of melodious messages, my favorite of which is "For Unto Us a Child Is Born." Its words are based on Isaiah 9:6 in which four titles are given to the anticipated Messiah: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace.
In the original context of Isaiah, the title "Prince of Peace" would have referred to the longing for a king devoted to shalom (Hebrew for peace). But for the ancient Israelites, shalom did not simply refer to the cessation of hostility. Shalom was a broad, expansive word that captured the dream for a society that afforded all people safety, justice for the poor, and wholeness for all people. Like the ancient Israelites, we continue to hope that our political leaders would have those goals in mind.
For those of us who are Christians, we believe Jesus Christ fulfills these titles from Isaiah 9:6. However, he does not satisfy them in the way we would often expect or anticipate. The ancient Israelites were seeking a leader who could establish peace for them against their Babylonian enemies. The Judeans of the first century were praying for a Messiah who could overthrow the Roman Empire. Jesus comes onto the scene not as a mighty warrior astride a white stallion, but as a homeless, impoverished baby born under questionable circumstances. Some prince.
Reflecting on Jesus' unconventional fulfillment of the title of "Prince of Peace," Walter Brueggemann writes, "The peace that he will initiate and sponsor, a peace that passes all human understanding and that defies all ordinary expectations, will be a peace that is wrought in vulnerability that does not seek to impose its own way."
What angered many of the people who heard Jesus' teachings is that he did not advocate a "cheap peace" in which we simply sit back and allow God to provide for us. Instead Jesus taught that we, as God's people, are to be agents of peace in our world. As the song says: "Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me."
Peace in our neighborhood and community is not just going to happen. It requires much of us. Peace requires the capacity to forgive, a readiness to share generously, and an attentiveness to the vulnerable in our midst. Peace requires we "do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves" (Philippians 2:3).
During this Advent season, we wait for the coming Christ Child, but we do not wait idly. While we hope and pray for peace, we also work for peace in our little corner of the world. And to do that we look to the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace:
O come, Desire of nations, bind
All peoples in one heart and mind;
Bid envy, strife and quarrels cease;
Fill the whole world with heaven's peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.