Summary: Lights and Christmas go together like peas and carrots. This message series reflects on the candles of the Advent wreath. This message focuses on the candle of peace.
All the Pretty Lights: The Light of Peace
Isaiah 9: 2 – 7
Thomas Edison is credited with changing the way Christmas was lighted, not because he invented the incandescent bulb, but because he chose Christmas as the time to market the incandescent bulb. Edison's marketing trick during the holiday season of 1880 was to display his invention as a means of heightening Yuletide excitement; he strung up incandescent bulbs all around his Menlo Park laboratory compound so that passing commuters on the nearby railway could see the Christmas miracle. But, Edison being Edison decided to make the challenge a little trickier by powering the lights from a remote generator eight miles away in an effort to gain a contract to provide electricity to Manhattan. Ironic, huh? Electric Christmas lights were a marketing ploy in the middle of the most marketed holiday ever. Two years later, in 1882 Edison’s partner Edward Johnson strung lights on his family’s Charlie Brown looking Christmas tree and the world saw the first electrically lighted tree. The practice didn’t catch on too quickly because it was too expensive for the average American to string lights on trees. Not until 1917 did electric lights become affordable for the average American, and they’ve been marketed successfully ever since. It’s okay. Lights are pretty, and they add so much to the season, and when we remember why we have lights we recapture the essence of the season, and we can handle the irony.
There’s more than a little irony associated with the nativity, too. How ironic is it that the Prince of Peace should be born during a time known as the Pax Romana—a time known as the Peace of Rome? Yet, the Jews were an oppressed people living in an occupied land. Though there was no outright conflict in the world, there was unrest in the hearts of the people. They were, even in those days, restless for God. And, how ironic that this One born the Prince of Peace would, himself, bring so much conflict among people? Consider with me that because of this peaceful manger scene every child under the age of two would be slaughtered due to Herod’s insecurity. Consider with me the scene in Luke’s Gospel when Jesus’ hometown folks sought to shove him off a cliff, and consider with me the attacks Jesus endured from the very Roman occupiers who demanded that Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem—attacks that took him to the cross. And, consider with me, the conflict the early disciples endured because they followed this One we call the Prince of Peace. Oh! There is much irony. How ironic that we light a fourth candle today on the Advent wreath, and we do so as a symbol of Christ, our peace.
Light brightens the darkness. Light, as the prophet Isaiah says, “will shine on all who live in the land where death casts its shadow.” And, the prophet says this light will shine in a day of peace. We hear a lot about peace in the nativity story. It starts with the prophet Isaiah who speaks of a resounding peace that comes amid the vivid imagery of the boots of tramping warriors and battle garments rolled in blood all of which will be burned as fuel for the fire to usher in the One who will be known as the Prince of Peace.
According to Luke, a multitude of the heavenly hosts, the ones who appeared to the shepherds that night of Jesus’ birth, sang of “Peace on earth good will to all whom God favors.” And our favorite carols pick up the theme as well.
Silent night, holy night. All is calm all is bright, round yon virgin mother and
child. Holy infant so tender and mild. Sleep in heavenly peace. Sleep in heavenly
Somehow the image of a newborn child and our longing for peace go hand in hand. The baby Jesus, lying in a manger, offers a symbol of peacefulness and calm that speaks to our soul, especially when we consider the chaotic and warring time in which we live. Jesus as the Prince of Peace in a warring world almost seems like a marketing ploy, like someone’s trying to sell us a bill of goods. When we consider what happened in Pakistan and in Australia over this past week, and what happens in Israel and Gaza on almost a daily basis, peace seems so unattainable. When we consider the rising tensions in North Korea and the daily reality of cyber attacks, we question if peace is ever possible. How do we look at that baby in a manger and see peace? How can we see the light of this candle shining in the midst of dark, warring world?
Here in America the term peace has been clearly connected with the absence of war, or even the absence of conflict. If there is no war – there is peace. However, the word that is used in the Old Testament for peace is “Shalom,” and it means so much more than the absence of conflict. Shalom is used to describe the end of hostilities, but the word itself also denotes health and wholeness. It denotes harmony and completeness. To have shalom is to have a quiet life and a fulfilled life in every way. When you have shalom there is no feeling of harm or hurt. When you have shalom you are in a state of ease and safety. In a state of shalom there is no fear whatsoever, nor is there any worry. There is a sense of harmony and oneness. You know your purpose and you have a sense of wholeness and completeness. Everything is exactly the way it should be. Nothing is out of order. Your inner world as well as the outer world is in harmony. This is shalom – this is the peace that Jesus brings for He is – Our Prince of Peace.