The Shalom of Christ: God’s peace in a world of turmoil

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SUNDAY, DECEMBER 4, 2016

SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT
YEAR A

Old Testament Isaiah 11:1–10
Psalm Psalm 72:1–7, 18–19
New Testament Romans 15:4–13
Gospel Matthew 3:1–12


Have you ever gotten into an argument with your spouse, or your parents, or your brother or your sister and after going back and forth said, “I’ve had enough” and walked out of the room? Or been so mad that you refused to talk to someone for a few minutes, or hours, or days? Technically, there’s no physical argument going on, no fight—but there is a very real relational rift. It might be very quiet, very peaceful in the house, but there is still a palpable sense of discord.

Today we celebrate the peace that comes as result of Christ’s Advent and the peace we hope for in his second coming. But what is the peace of Christ all about? Remember the prophet Isaiah called the Messiah the Prince of Peace. In Hebrew, the word for Peace is Shalom.

Shalom is a beautiful, rich word, and our English translations of it as “peace” don’t quite do it justice. You see in Hebrew, the idea of Shalom isn’t necessarily the simple absence of conflict, or a nice sense of calm, but rather it is the flourishing of all things. To wish for the Shalom of God is to wish to see all creation functioning as it should, working together in perfect harmony for its intended purpose.

In today’s passage from Isaiah 11:1-10 we get a picture of what God’s peace, God’s Shalom, looks like. And we need to understand God’s picture, because it’s God’s idea of what life is supposed to be like in his Kingdom! This Shalom is what we hope for and witness to as the Church while we wait for Christ to return and bring his peace to whole world.

I want to point out four things about God’s picture of Shalom that we learn from Isaiah. These are four key characteristics of God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven:

  1. Real harmony can only come from God. God’s Shalom is brought about by a savior, a Messiah, on whom the Spirit of the Lord rests. It is the Spirit of God in his fullness that equips this Messiah to perfectly understand and display the righteousness and faithfulness of God. “His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.” That means the very thing that will energize and propel his saving ministry will be proper respect for and submission to God. God’s Spirit-filled Messiah will bring about God’s society of Shalom.
  2. The marginalized will be embraced. God’s Shalom includes a community where the poor are not overlooked, where the meek are not taken advantage of. Where the refugee is safe. The passage says the Messiah will “decide with equity” for those that have been oppressed.
  3. Violence will be eradicated. Perfect Shalom, perfect harmony means no person and no-thing will survive at the expense of another. The wicked will in no uncertain terms be dealt with, but the amazing thing here is they are not killed by lightning bolts or armies of angels. No, the earth is struck with the “rod of his mouth” and it is the “breath of his lips” that vanquish those that embrace evil. I don’t pretend to know how it will work, but I believe what the prophet is getting at here is that the power of God’s truth will be so clear, so on display, that evil will simply not be able to stand before it. We see the results in the following verses; nature itself is no longer characterized by survival at the expense of others, even if that seems “natural” to us today. “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb…the lion shall eat straw…the nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra…they shall not hurt of destroy in all my holy mountain.”
  4. Every aspect of creation will fulfill its purpose of bringing glory to God. We were created in the image of God. This means we are meant to be an image of him, reflecting, displaying, and pointing to his perfect character. Creation is meant to display the glory, or the beauty of God, in all his creative power and energy. In verse 9 we read “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” One commentator notes “And how do the waters cover the sea? They are the sea.[1]” Everything on the earth will finally live into its purpose of communicating who God is.

Isaiah says, “there shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,” he is talking about a descendant of David. Remember, Jesse was David’s father. We know from the Scriptures that Jesus is a descendant of David. So, Christians have always understood this passage to be about Jesus. And we know that Jesus, because he was God incarnate, was perfectly yielded to the Holy Spirit in a way that no other human being possibly could be. How could any sinful person ever fulfill that Messianic prophecy in Isaiah? Only the sinless Savior Jesus Christ can enact and invite us into this Kingdom. And of course, that’s exactly what he did, and that’s exactly what John the Baptist was pronouncing:

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah[2]

Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus proclaimed and embodied God’s Shalom, as God with us, embracing the poor, the sinners, the sick, and the outcasts. Jesus proclaimed and embodied God’s Shalom not by creating a kingdom through military conquest, but by absorbing the violent actions of his enemies on the cross! Jesus proclaimed and embodied God’s Shalom when, being raised from the dead, he proved God’s power over death and displayed God’s desire to bring us all with Jesus into eternal and abundant life, starting today.

Imagine if we began to see our church’s mission as proclaiming and embodying the Shalom of Christ in the power of Spirit. Imagine what it would look like for us to embrace the marginalized, reject any form of violence or coercion as means of living in the Kingdom, and for our community to be filled with the knowledge of the Lord.

How do we begin to live out this kind of harmony, this kind of Shalom together?

For Paul, it’s so simple. God’s Shalom, God’s perfect harmony, begins and ends in worship:

May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.[3]

This way of life in the Spirit is about living in right relationship with God as individuals and as a community. A life of thankful praise overflows into perfect harmony.

Paul goes on:

Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. [4]

Simple, loving acceptance of one another, treating each other as Christ has treated us, is how we begin to express God’s Shalom. Because when we treat one another as Christ has treated us, we must operate in submission to the Spirit. When we treat one another as Christ has treated us, we sacrifice ourselves. When we treat one another as Christ has treated us, the knowledge of the Lord begins to spread beyond us.

The Shalom of Christ begins to cover the earth.

Do you want to be a part of that? You can. We can live peace on earth now and in the future. All because of Jesus. Amen.

 


[1] Wright, N. T. (2001). Twelve Months of Sundays: Reflections on Bible Readings, Year A (p. 5). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 3:2–3). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ro 15:5–6). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ro 15:7). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.