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Planetary Peace Talks

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Planetary Peace Talks

Words from the prophet Isaiah:

Isaiah 9.6 “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given,

and the government will be on his shoulders.

And he will be called

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

7Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.

He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom,

establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness

from that time on and forever.

The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.”

Prince of peace. We are in the season of Advent and it’s the day we focus on the word peace. What does it mean to you? What do you want it to mean?

Peace means many things to many people. Some look at the world they know and think in terms of the end to conflict. Did you know that the great American historian/philosopher Will Durant once calculated that in all of recorded history there have been only 29 years without war? Right now, there are 8 wars going on in our world and as many as 15 civil wars or insurgencies. It makes those words from Isaiah all the more distressing.

We read,“Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.” So, when? We wonder, the end of war? The end of fighting, bullying, conflict? The end of endless arguing in Parliament? The end of domestic violence and some know that violence can be verbal as well as physical.

And for some peace can mean an inner calm. The world is what it is, but at least I can be at peace, in my heart and my mind. This peace is a means to being centered and to get the maximum amount of joy out of the life we have. It isn’t a retreat into self-centeredness, so much as a spiritualized view of peace.

So, one view is rooted in the physical world and the other in the inner, spiritual world. It’s almost like they are opposed to each other. But can peace of mind sustain us when the world is exploding? Or, can an end to open conflict be satisfying if there is war simmering yet in the heart? Can we really be satisfied with one or the other? Settle for one or the other? Must it be one or the other?

Where do we go from here?

What I want to invite you to do today is to imaginatively enter a story. The story of the Magi in Matthew 2. What we’ll do is read the story and then look at it from three different points of view: Mary and Joseph’s, Herod’s and the Magi’s. What we’ll see is that peace is a difficult thing to accept and to participate in; and that ultimately, for peace to happen, God must intervene and humanity must cooperate.

Matthew 2.1-23

 “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

3When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

6“ ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,

are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

for out of you will come a ruler

who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

7Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

9After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

13When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

14So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

16When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

18“A voice is heard in Ramah,

weeping and great mourning,

Rachel weeping for her children

and refusing to be comforted,

because they are no more.””

19After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”

21So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 23and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: “He will be called a Nazarene.”

There is a three part plot to the story that we’ll use as we look at each point of view. The first is that life is filled with anxiety. Secondly that anxious people act out of their anxiety. And finally that appropriate action affirms peace or a lack of it. And I just want to make one important note about the word anxiety. Some here know that word in a clinical form. That is not what we’re talking about. The definition of ‘anxiety’ in this message is the generalized stress that people can feel at greater or lesser intensity depending on what is going on at the time.

So, first up, Matthew 2 from Joseph and Mary’s point of view. There is no doubt that Joseph and Mary are anxious. They’ve had a baby before their wedding, which was not cool for their time and culture. They are in a strange town having travelled through the final stages of their pregnancy only to give birth in an animal shelter. They survive all of this, move into a house and a while later some strangers show up. No ordinary folk, these Magi, magician, slash government official types bring very expensive gifts and worship the baby. Now, if the story is too familiar, imagine how it would be for you if you’re trying to quietly make a new start for yourself and suddenly the TV trucks roll up to announce to the world that you’d won a prize that you hadn’t even entered the contest for. Yes, they are anxious. And then Joseph has dreams. Again, it sounds nice, doesn’t it? To hear from God via dreams. But Joseph hasn’t heard anything to date that has been non-anxiety giving. Your fiancé is pregnant . . . marry her anyway . . . now go run to Egypt there is a death warrant out for your son.

Anxious, so they act. How? Well, first of all they are and will stay together. He marries Mary and loves her, protects her. That’s what husbands are supposed to do. Then, they receive the Magi as guests, extending hospitality even when they must have wondered why the rich would want to hang out with them, the poor. What was on the menu? Does it matter what it was if it was extended graciously. Because that’s what faithful people are supposed to do. And, for all his confusion, Joseph does what the angel tells him to. He hears and gets up in the morning. Mary, get the kid, the donkey’s loaded, we’re out of here. And Mary? She trusts her husband.

They act and their actions affirm peace. Living with anxiety they are poised and ready to hear God speak. They accept the lack of peace in their lives and cling to faith in their God. The result is that they are able to act with confidence and calm, even if it seems overwhelming and frantic at times. They act and create a safe home for their son. Because that’s what parents are supposed to do.

Take 2. Matthew 2 from Herod and the ruler’s point of view.

King Herod and Jerusalem are anxious. The rulers identified here are the priests and teachers of the law. They are the religious authorities: priests, scribes and Pharisees. And they are anxious. If what the Magi says is true then the fulfillment of long awaited promises will affect everyone. They check and see, sure enough, Num 24.17 predicts a star or sceptre as a sign prior to the Messiah coming. Psalm 72.10-11 and Isaiah 60.6 both speak of foreign nobles bringing gifts and the quote in Matthew 2.6,

6“ ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,

are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

for out of you will come a ruler

who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

 is actually a combination of two Old Testament quotes that together promise the coming of a new king to Jerusalem[1]. The whole city is anxious. And it will happen again when Jesus enters Jerusalem for the last time about 30 years after this. 

Very anxious, Herod is threatened and so are the rulers. They stand to be replaced. Their self-worth and identity is wrapped up in their power and influence. Anxious? They are afraid, angry and their futures hang in the balance.

So they act. Herod acts by trying to manipulate and then force peace by brutality. To maintain the peace, which really means to maintain his power, Herod kills. He has a long history of doing so. And at least some of the rulers, also try to remove the threat violently. Note that in verse 20 it says “for those who were trying to take the child’s life.” It’s plural, those not just he, as in Herod alone. And Jesus will have many more encounters with ‘those.’ When he meets them as an adult he’ll consistently challenge their idea of peace being found in rules and laws because that is what they resort to as a means to controlling the people.

In sum, where Mary and Joseph’s acts affirmed peace, Herod and the ruler’s acts deny peace. Herod lives and dies with homicidal anxiety. He dies later that same year leaving a despot on the throne. (vs. 21) And the rulers live anxiously continuing to ‘burden the people.’

Matthew 23.1-4 “Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2“The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. 4They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.”

They both resist peace by rejecting what God is revealing. They fail to find true peace because they believe it can be found through violence instead of through the Christ child.

Take 3. Matthew 2 from Magi’s point of view.

Yes, the Magi are also anxious. They believe in the supernatural and the unpredictability of supernatural events sets them to a constant watching and waiting. They are accustomed to court and politics. So the encounter with Herod must have made them more anxious. Did they find out that he was furious with them, or did they just expect it? Probably the later. And they are overjoyed when they ‘see’ the child. They are bothered by so many normal pressures. A mixture of anticipation, worry, joy and fear. In a way they are like so many people over most of time, searching, finding, experiencing joy and uncertainty.

And so, they too, act. They have a vocation, a job and they do it: they search for the child. When they find him, they follow through on what their research told them to do. Worship the prince of peace. And then they leave, job complete, refusing to help Herod damage peace.

The Magi act according to a higher standard and in doing so; they affirm the expansion of peace. Their gifts provide needed cash for the trip Joseph must undertake. Their affirmation of Jesus must have built confidence for Mary that this baby really was special. Their refusal to enter the political game for personal gain demonstrated integrity and a concern for the world they knew, not just one nation or another. They are people open to what God is doing, willing to sacrifice for peace to come. They live with anxiety, hopeful for something new.

Okay, let’s tie this all together. Let’s see what it all means.

It cannot be stated strongly enough, God is aware of our anxiety. Nothing in this story happens outside of God’s view and knowing. Nothing.

God knows, anxiety is the human condition. Whether a relational issue, financial or job worry, or some other such fear. Each of us came here with some anxiety on our minds. What is yours? What peace challenging anxiety is yours to bear? Think about that for a minute.

And if you’ve been living with that anxiety how have you been able to act out of it? Proactively or reactively? Coping with a calm confidence, reacting with violence or uncertain of how to move forward, yet doing so anyway?

How well is your approach to anxiety working?

Underneath the surface of their reactions, the people in our story have some things to confront. Does Mary think she, a pregnant teenager, has worth? Does Joseph embarrassed by her pregnancy have self-esteem? Does Herod react out of a deep need that he masks with brutality? Do the Magi feel confident only because their intellect is so sharp?

Underneath, the surface, do we believe that we have value simply because God says so? That we have value in spite of human judgment and opinion? That we are in fact asked to love ourselves because God loves us first?

And this isn’t a sentimental love. Because this love overcomes bit by bit the need all of us have to be in control. Is it just possible that we would have peace on earth if we all gave up the need to be controlling? Isn’t conflict so very often the product of power and control colliding with power and control in politics, on the job at school, in the bedroom? What do we have to give up if we really want peace?

Do we really want peace?

The prince of peace offers peace.

Isaiah 9.6 “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given,

and the government will be on his shoulders.

And he will be called

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

7Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.

He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom,

establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness

from that time on and forever.

The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.”

God loves us. His zeal – passion - for us makes a way for all who are willing to learn the way of peace. So that just as it was for Mary, we can be calm and think through what causes our anxiety and to choose to act so that peace will come from our decisions. Can you imagine the change in your world as we learn how to do this together? In our homes, schools, work places?

God loves us. His zeal for us makes a way for all who are willing to learn the way of peace. So that in opposition to the way of Herod, we can live with disagreements and differences.

In Jesus, God provides a calm confidence that requires courage and trust to maintain. The Magi refused to go Herod’s way they accepted peace instead. They did what we are asked to do.

Jesus offers his peace that we enter willingly and choose to remain in. A whole new way of being in the world. The way marked by celebrating what God has done and is doing to make peace. Jesus has come, Jesus has died for sin; so if God is no longer angry at those who refuse his peace, then should anyone else be? And what difference might that make in the world? This how believing people can reach across ethnic, social and religious boundaries to see real change happen.

And one other thing. In Jesus, God provides a calm confidence that allows for something special. The last essential element for peace to reign in ever increasing ways.  In Jesus we can grieve what humans are doing to destroy peace. To confess our part in the problem and embrace our part in the solution. What we do with the anxieties that we came here with, really will increase or decrease peace in our world.

This calls for engagement and courage accepting peace that often seems ‘spiritual’ because the world really is going to pieces and at other times celebrating the end of open conflict, knowing that issues remain. It’s living in the tension of things not being what they should be, but trusting the Prince of Peace to complete what he has begun in all who trust him.

So, will you choose for peace?


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[1] Micah 5.2 and 2 Sam 5.2

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