Summary: True peace does not come through contented circumstances, but through a relationship with God
As I was bringing our children to church Wednesday night, they were taking note of all the homes that were lit up and decorated for Christmas. They remarked at how they liked the decorations and the effort folk put forth at Christmas time. They also said, “People are different this time of year. They’re happier, and they’re nicer.” Seeing a teachable moment I asked them, “Why do you think that is?” They responded by saying, “Christmas is a happy time.” I agreed with them and we talked about the love God showed us through the gift of his son, Jesus Christ. How Christ warms our hearts and makes us happy, and as Christians, we should carry that warmth everyday, not just during December.
This time of year does have a special feel to it. Our early snow certainly added to that feeling, and I like that feeling that comes with Christmas. The Christmas Season usually brings out the best in people. Christmas has an affect on our attitudes and our outlook. It’s interesting how promises and characteristics that aren’t always present in our current circumstances or in our society become a point of emphasis during the Advent Season.
Last week we focused on hope. Hope is a powerful feeling that represents a mindset or an attitude. Unfortunately, our degree of hope often runs parallel to our circumstances. When we’re down and out, our hope sometimes wanes, but when we’re upbeat and positive, hope springs eternal. Last week’s scripture illustrated Isaiah’s hopefulness in spite of their being kicked out of Jerusalem and their being in Babylonian exile. He showed us that hope is not dependant upon circumstances. Hope is an attitude. Hope is a way of life.
This morning we relit the candle of hope and then lit the candle of peace. When we consider the circumstances in our nation and in our world, it’s rather ironic that we proclaim peace in the midst of such turmoil. Some of the headlines from this past week’s newspaper read: “Turkey may support U. S. war on Iraq.” “Saudis say they are fighting terrorism.” “Israeli troops kill elderly Palestinian woman,” bringing the death toll to over 2,600 since September of last year. “Al-Qaeda claims responsibility for Kenya attacks.” “U.S. forces say they’re ready for war.”
How do we seriously approach this hour of worship; how do we honestly and with a clear conscience proclaim hope and peace in the midst of such turmoil and tragedy? How do we find the tranquility of peace when we bear the burden of grief? How do we claim Christ as the Prince of Peace, when we refuse to make him Lord of our Lives? How do these words, attributed to Isaiah, bring hopefulness and peace in the midst of suffering?
I’d like to suggest that these words in Isaiah bring hopefulness and peace, because they are from God. Last week’s scripture was a plea from Isaiah that God come down here and change things! Isaiah was speaking, asking God to rip open the heavens and make the earth shake in his presence. This morning’s scripture starts with God speaking.
VS 1-2. This is not Isaiah crying out, but God’s response of comfort. The initiative is God’s. God is again moving in history. He has not deserted the world. He has not deserted his chosen people. He is the sustainer and provider of peace.
A study was done some years ago around the subject of peace & contentment. One thing it showed is that self-centered, egotistical people scored lowest on any test that measured peace and contentment. Perhaps you’ve heard the saying, “The trouble with some self-made men is that they worship their creator.” The message here is to believe in something bigger than yourself... I’d like to suggest God.
Circumstances in life can change in an instant, but God doesn’t. Economies head south, companies scale back, and you lose your job. Your circumstances have changed, but God hasn’t. Your parents grow older, their health declines, and now you have to care for your mother or father. Your circumstances have changed, but God hasn’t. Annual physicals indicate good health, but out of nowhere cancer appears. Your circumstances have changed, but God hasn’t.
I heard a minister say this past week, “If God was small enough that everything about Him could be explained, He wouldn’t be big enough for you to worship.” True peace starts with belief in God. God’s words to Isaiah, God’s words to the Israelite people, and God’s words to us today are “Comfort, O comfort my people.” Circumstances change, but God hasn’t.
A second voice chimes in and says, “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for God.” Some have suggested this is referring to Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, the precursor to Jesus’ ministry: the voice crying out in the wilderness, preparing the way for Jesus Christ. We have the benefit of looking back through a New Testament lens to make that connection, but for the Israelites who didn’t have benefit of NT hindsight, it had a different meaning.