Prince of Peace
Isaiah 7: 1-16, Isaiah 9:1b-7.
Our second passage today was one of my father’s favourite passages. He loved the book of Isaiah and he loved especially this and a few other prophecies in Isaiah.
There is a deep message here, but sometimes it gets lost.
Imagine it is 2032. You are talking to my granddaughter Jessica because she has been given an assignment on Brexit. Jessica will be 15 then, and in her history class she has been asked to write an essay about what Brexit was about way back in 2017. And Jessica knows that you lived those days...how would you explain it?
It would be easy to get lost.
And that can be the same with this passage.
There is an easy option.
The easy option is to say this is a prophecy about Jesus. That 700 years before Jesus was being born God was warning the world that his Son was coming. And then we don't need to really think about the passage. Easy. But I think that does the Bible a disservice. And really, why would the point of God do that?
If we want people to take us seriously surely our scripture should be something we take seriously.
And this doesn't seem a serious way to look at scripture.
Imagine God came to talk to you.
Imagine God decided that you were to be a prophet.
And God has a message for you.
And you phoned me up and said, ‘Jim, God has called me to be a prophet. And he has given me a message that he wants to church to hear. Really important message that the church needs to hear now.’
And I say, ‘Fine you can do the service on Sunday.’
And you come along next Sunday and say, ‘People of Alva. God has given me a message that you need to hear now. At some point in the future. Not too sure when, or where, there will be a child born and you need to worship him. Even though you don't know when he is coming you need to prepare yourself for his arrival.’
And there is a ‘question and answer’ bit after the sermon because this is a really important message.
‘So, when you say some time in the future but you’re not too sure when. Are we talking a couple of weeks, a couple of months...is it really urgent, a couple of days? How long should we be preparing?’
And you reply, ’Well not a couple of months. I was thinking maybe a couple of centuries, maximum a thousand years. Probably.’
What would be your response?
As far as you’re concerned you would have other problems to worry about.
In a thousand years time, maybe over 30 generations time, we might not even be living on this planet. The population of Pluto might have just had a referendum stating they don't want to be part of the (ECC) Earth and Central planets Community.
There’s no way we can prepare ourselves for what might be ahead then.
And if we think that now, why would the people of Isaiah's time think that much differently.
They were facing their own urgent problems that they had to deal with at that moment. They wouldn't have been interested in prophesies that might or might not take place in 700 years.
So Isaiah's prophecy had to be meaningful for his own people.
When we understand that, and find the context of that, then maybe we can find a message that we can relate to.
So here’s the history.
Originally Israel was a country made up of a commonwealth of 12 tribes.
This commonwealth was ruled first by Saul, then David, then David's son Solomon.
After Solomon the commonwealth split into two.
The ten Northern Tribes split away and kept the name Israel.
The two southern tribes took on the name Judah.
Israel and Judah were always two very small counties in between two vast empires; the Assyrian Empire and the Egyptian Empire.
And Empires always want to get bigger.
So now the politics.
King Ahaz of Judah feels threatened by Israel which wants to unite the two countries back together again. Ahaz hears that Israel is thinking of joining up with Syria to take on Judah and share the spoils.
King Ahaz is terrified.
Isaiah comes to him and says that he doesn't need to worry.
That those two countries aren’t as stable or powerful as he thinks.
In fact that in a very short period of time they will fall. In fact there is a young woman in the court who is pregnant. By the time she gives birth Israel qand Syria will look very weak, in fact that mother will have enough confidence in the way things are going in Judah that she will call her child ‘Immanuel, God is with us’
They will be able to call the child that because they will have such confidence that God is watching over them, that God is looking after them, that that would be a natural name to call a child.
King Ahaz isn’t sure about this. Faith isn't something that he is good at. He doesn't need a child, he needs warriors. So Isaiah gives him another prophecy. The invading armies will be destroyed, and there will be such a time of peace. As Solomon reigned over a time of great stability, so one of Ahaz’s descendants will live in such a time that his names will be ‘Wonderful Councillor, Prince of Peace, Eternal Father’ .
And Ahaz has a choice. Does he trust in God or does he trust his own political instincts?
Ahaz decides that he will go with his political instincts. If he has a bear at his door he needs to make an alliance with a dragon. So he seeks the help of the Assyrian Empire...enemies of the Syrians and the Israelites.
The Assyrians come in and save the day...but at a cost.
Ahaz had to pay the Assyrians, had to give them holy relics from the Temple, had to allow the Assyrians to set up idols throughout Judah.
I am sure Ahaz thought it was a good deal, he was kept in power. He may have become effectively a puppet king for the Assyrians, but he still felt in charge.
But it was an uneasy peace.
Now Egypt felt threatened because there was no buffer states between the Assyrians and the Egyptians.
The Babylonians would be looking at what was going on and start to make plans for the area.
What Ahaz did to make the situation more stable in the short term made the situation more unstable in the long term.
It was a bit like paying off all your debts with a credit card...not realising that the bill for the credit card could cost you your home and leave you homeless.
Isaiah didn't give Ahaz a prophecy, Isaiah gave Ahaz a choice. Choose the way of God, the way of trust and hope. Or choose the way of yourself, of wheeling and dealing and only relying on yourself.
And generations later, the writers of the new Old Testament saw that God was still working, and that although the people of their time hadn't listened to God, maybe one day people would, and God would still fulfil these hopes.
Then the writers of the New Testament saw that in Jesus there was the hope that the prophets had spoke about.
That the promises given to Ahaz had found fulfilment in Jesus.
So now it is up to us.
We are now King Ahaz. We are now the masters of our own kingdom and we decide what actions to take. Just as Ahaz’s actions would have repercussions way beyond what he thought, so our actions will have repercussions long after we make them.
And Ahaz felt so pressurised, his whole future, his life was as stake. And we probably feel the same way. In a survey that came out on Monday they said that 4 out of 5 people were living with extreme stress. Stress of debt, stress of loosing their home, stress of family disputes.
And like Ahaz there is a temptation to seek an easy answer.
Deal with today and let tomorrow sort itself out.
But if the way we deal with today puts more stress on tomorrow then what's the point?
Imagine an alcoholic. The alcoholism is affecting his work so he might lose that.
If he loses his job then there is a stress on the finances. He might not be able to pay for the mortgage. Having to tell his wife that might be the last straw as far as the marriage is concerned so he might lose his family support and access to his children. It’s all too much, it’s all too hard. So how to deal with it all?
He can’t. But if he takes one big drink all the stress will go away. It will be fine for today. Tomorrow he can sort it out. But then tomorrow starts off worse than today. All the problems of yesterday are still there, and now the problems of today are adding to them.
Go to any alcoholic’s anonymous meeting and they will tell you the world is full of Ahaz’s. Kings who took the short cut. And it never ended well.
What they need is a belief in a higher being and a relationship with that higher being. Having peace that today might be hard but with the security of that relationship then we can take the right steps forward.
One day at a time taking the right steps, and each day gets us closer to the place of peace that we seek to be.
It starts with a relationship with God.
It starts with trusting God’s path for us, no matter how hard that may seem, no matter how vulnerable that may make us feel.
I was visiting one of our old folk in a hospital. She is completely vulnerable.
As it turns out she had a tummy bug. She is suffering from dementia and is very frail. So it was no surprise that she had lost her appetite.
Through circumstances way out of my control I happened to visit near lunch time and they thought I was a grandson rather than the minister so gave me the soup to see if she would take it from me. And she wolfed it down.
The sickness had gone but the nurses hadn't realised that. The reason she wasn't eating was because she was struggling to hold the spoon. But with all their other work pressing on them, they were putting the food in and then checking later and seeing no food eaten, so presuming she still wasn't hungry.
I believe God was watching over that woman. That she was completely vulnerable, unable to look after herself, but that didn’t matter because God had mucked up my life so that I happened to be in the right place at the right time to see what was happening, help and give that message onto the nurses.
I think that’s the way God wants to work in our life, but we are so busy trying not to be vulnerable that we push God away, and in pushing God away we make things worse.
We hide our problems, so those who could help don't see the help they could offer.
We pretend that things are going fine when they aren’t, and we live a lie.
And because we live a lie we think everyone else is doing what we are doing and so we can't trust anyone.
Imagine being who we are, open and honest.
Imagine being loved for who we truly are
and knowing that we are loved for who we truly are
and not for who people think we are.
Imagine living like that, with that peace and assurance and serenity.
It was possible for Ahaz, but he wouldn't, couldn’t trust it.
It is possible for us, if we choose.
Isaiah 9 Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honour Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—
2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. 3 You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder. 4 For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. 5 Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire. 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 Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the greatness 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.