But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined … For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and for evermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. Isaiah 9.1-2, 6-7.
So, today, Christmas Day, I come to one of the loveliest titles for our Messiah, Jesus — sar shalom, “Prince of Peace”. The fundamental idea of shalom is wholeness, completeness, soundness and well-being. It goes far beyond our essentially negative idea that peace is the absence or end of war. Peace is when everything is as God intended it to be: an Edenic state of harmonious fellowship with himself and with each other and with the rest of creation. And by giving the coming Messiah “Prince of Peace” as his fourth title, Isaiah is recognising that his rule will restore the paradise that was lost and bring everything in heaven and earth into the perfect state into which it was always intended to be.
Two chapters on from the one in which this morning’s reading is found, Isaiah paints a picture of that perfect world: “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf 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 cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11.6-9).
But how does Jesus do this? How, at his hand, will paradise be regained? The clue lies in something that the prophet Micah says. Talking of the Messiah and his people, he says: “He shall be their peace” (Micah 5.5). Peace is not simply something that Jesus brings about. He is Peace, and peace is established whenever and wherever someone or something finds its place in him. He will not bring wholeness and soundness and well-being to my life by, as it were, waving a magic wand from a distance. He will not reconcile me to God and bring me into harmonious relationship with my fellow human beings and the rest of creation by speaking some word of power from heaven. He will do all these things only by entering my life and drawing me back into himself so that his life becomes my life; for he is Peace.
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the angelic host sang: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2.14); but perhaps the word “peace” there should have a capital “P”; perhaps it’s not a state of peace that is being referred to but the New-born One himself who will bring peace about by being Peace. As Paul says, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. (Ephesians 2.13-17). It is as I am brought into Christ and live my life in him that I have peace with God and am at peace with the world. The gospel is the “good news of peace through Jesus Christ” (Acts 10.36).
And, as I have suggested earlier, it is not just peace between man and God or peace between one human being and another that is being achieved in Jesus. It is the harmonisation of everything. “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1.19-20). In Jesus, the Fall is being reversed; “Death itself” (as Aslan explains to Lucy and Susan in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) has started “working backwards”; and, as little by little everything is brought back into him, Eden itself is being restored. How glorious is that! No wonder Charles Wesley cried out with longing:
Finish then Thy new creation:
pure and spotless let us be;
let us see Thy great salvation,
perfectly restored in Thee.
The restoration of all things, the bringing back into harmony and unity of everything in creation — that is what “peace” means, and it will come about … is coming about … in and through Jesus, the one and only Prince of Peace. In so far as I know him and am in him, even now I know that peace for “Peace I leave with you,” he tells me; “my peace I give to you” (John 14.27).