It’s a scene familiar in any household with small children. A tired but revved up little person, unable to stop themselves from chatter and activity, let’s out a persistent plea for attention. An exhausted, multi-tasking parent, almost at the end of the rope is trying to hang onto a vestige of self-control.
My sister was the small child, petulant and out of sorts. My mother was trying to accomplish some necessary piece of work without unnecessary distraction. Trying to set appropriate boundaries, my mother says she told my sister: “I just want a little peace and quiet.” My sister promptly burst into tears and cried, “I want a piece of quiet, too.”
We all want a piece of piece.
We all know how my mother felt. We all want peace. And we all tend to act like my sister. We may be older and somewhat subtler, but we can be suitably outraged when someone doesn’t provide us with a piece of the peace we want.
The prophet Isaiah speaks to a nation that has been acting like an unruly, demanding toddler who does not know how to settle its own body or mind. Or perhaps he speaks to twin toddlers – Israel and Judah.
Like a toddler, or a teenager or like most of us, what Israel and Judah would cry that one or the other had more of what they both wanted.
It’s time for the people of God to grow up.
The prophet Isaiah perhaps perceives some righteous eye-rolling from a beleaguered God and a weary sigh. God, Yahweh, creator of all, has cared for Israel and Judah as a parent cares for a child from the very beginning. Now, increasingly, God is ready for Israel and Judah to grow up.
Isaiah speaks to the fearful, fretful Judah and Israel, as well. In the midst of the promise of God to be present, to continue to care for God’s children, Isaiah speaks of another child, a new child yet to be born. This will be an extraordinary child. We can tell by the names that it will bear. Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father. This child shall be named Prince of Peace.
Jesus has a mature understanding of peace.
As Christians, we claim those names for Jesus. He is the extraordinary child who has been given to us. There is no whining from this child. Jesus’ sense of peace and his teachings about peace are as extraordinary as he is.
Each of the gospels tells of Jesus sending his disciples out into their communities to continue his ministry of proclaiming the kingdom of God. He told them to two things 1) Whatever house you enter, first say “Peace to this house” and if they share in peace, your peace will rest on that person. 2) If you say “Peace be with you” but they will not share your peace, your peace will return to you. Shake off the dust of that place.
Two of Jesus’ teachings on peace.
So, Jesus has two great teachings about peace. One: We are called to bring peace into the world. Two: Our peace is not dependent on other people.
The prophet Isaiah and Jesus expect that faithful people will be people who bring peace to others. Faithful people are restless people, who go out into the world, into their communities and respond to the brokenness in individuals, households and in our societies. Faithful people believe that God has made a non-negotiable commitment to bring better things into being and so we are restless and working as long as things are not right.
Ahare peace, by any means possible.
Justice and peace are inextricably tied together for Isaiah and for Jesus. When there is injustice, inevitably there is a lack of tranquility. There is stress, and there is conflict. Burdens placed upon the poor, unfair treatment based on age or race or gender, lack of access to basic resources – those cause a disquietness in the soul that can grow to a thundering disequilibrium. Every year, we have clearer evidence that the stress of poverty and injustice lead to disproportionately poor outcomes in school, increase negative health outcomes and reduce life expectancy. It is no wonder that throughout the history of the world injustice has led to violence in homes, in communities, within and between nations.
When Jesus sent his disciples out to offer peace to those who would receive it, he sent them with news of radical justice. Food for the hungry. Release for the prisoner. Inclusion for the injured. Help for the hurting. A new system for the poor.
That’s the peace Jesus tells us to offer when we go out into the world. Not pacifying messages to make people limp and compliant. Not pablum that feeds people for a moment without reshaping the future. Jesus lived and led with righteous indignation that changed systems and with strong compassion that changed lives.
Some will reject us.
Jesus knows what his disciples then and now will encounter. Some will receive this peace – step up, grow up, work on, and participate in bringing justice and righteous, God’s lasting peace to earth.
And others will not. They will reject it. They will reject the peace, and they will reject us.
Then, Jesus says, “Dust off the memory of those people and that place and your peace will return to you.” Now that’s extraordinary. Jesus says if someone does not share our peace, move on, our peace returns to us.
That’s an extraordinary idea for most of us. Usually, we have made our peace dependent on other people.
I’ll be at peace when people everyone does what they are supposed to do without my asking. You’ll be at peace when the members of our family quit acting crazy. You will be at peace when your work situation settles down, or everyone gets healthy. You want peace so you isolate yourself from others so they can never hurt you. We would be at peace if those people on the other side of whatever argument would just come to their senses and agree with us. We would have peace if those Christians would start acting like us Christians. We would have peace if the people would just give us a piece of peace and quiet.
What amazing power we are willing to give to others, power they were never intended to have. Nadia Bolz Weber says it is like we rent out free space in our heads to other people. Free rent for a hostile tenant.
Dust yourself off and let peace return.
Jesus says, “Shake off that dust.” Jesus says our peace returns to us, no matter what people do with it. Peace is never wasted. Even when people reject us, continue to hurt us, speak badly about us. Even when they act nuts and blow up buildings, shoot down people and drive us into debt. Our peace can return to us because those people were never the source of our peace in the first place.
Our source of peace is always with us.
Isaiah, like our Prince of Peace, says: It is already here. It is always here. God’s light, God’s love, God’s grace, God’s presence is always here and that- that alone – is your peace.
As a mother loves a child, as an everlasting Father desires goodness for his children, as a mighty God who tends to creation, so God comes to us with peace. The Prince of Peace has come to us, and his Spirit breathes within us. He is our peace. Let him return to you. Live in him and for his kingdom. The Prince of Peace is with you and for you and none can stand against you.