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Recently Jess and I released a brand new Christmas single, Unto Us (Isaiah 9), with a text based entirely on one of the most familiar Christmas passages in scripture. You can watch the video below and download it on iTunes here: http://apple.co/1jbWccj.
The song also references one of our favorite pieces of music, Handel’s Messiah. With our involvement in various choirs and orchestras over the years we’ve come to know it very well – although Jess knows the bass parts better than the soprano parts because she was always playing cello!
Handel’s version of “For unto us a child is born” contains a line that I didn’t understand when I first heard it as a freshman in high school:
And the government shall be upon his shoulders…
(How many of you just sang that in your heads as you read it?)
Picturing Jesus as a part of the “government” always seemed strange to me. Can you picture Jesus in the Republican or Democratic debates?
“Bernie, even I’M not as socialist as you are.”
“Hillary…I’ve been reading your emails…”
“Huckabee, we’ve known each other for awhile, and you know I don’t like playing the ‘omniscience’ card…but you might want to start making other plans for 2016.”
Maybe Jesus is the only one who could finally render Donald Trump speechless.
But of course I wasn’t really understanding the passage correctly. Isaiah wasn’t talking about Jesus holding some position of power in an earthly government. He was talking about a brand new kingdom. The kingdom of heaven.
One of the Isaiah 9 verses that we used in “Unto Us” – but didn’t appear in Handel’s text – helps to clarify:
Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. – Isaiah 9:7
The older I get and the more perspective I acquire, the more incredible that promise seems: peace with no end! It seems impossibly far away and yet I find I long for it more and more.
Consider the times we live in: religious extremists callously take innocent life, seemingly interminable conflicts rage across the globe; even here in America the very fact that the term “mass shooting” has become a familiar part of our public discourse should be sobering.
And human governments seem powerless to bring peace. In fact, just a cursory look at the last century of history shows us that often the very actions taken to bring resolution to one conflict simply set the stage for the next.
The examples of this innumerable, but for one, consider al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, both products of the (successful) American effort to neutralize the Soviet threat to Afghanistan in the 1980s. I think we can all agree that the human track record for establishing lasting peace is exceedingly poor.
And that’s why this promise is so beautiful, even as it remains out of our reach; tantalizingly near and yet impossibly distant.
Here are just a few thoughts on what this promise means for us:
1. There IS real hope for peace.
Followers of Christ live in a difficult tension: even as we seek to fulfill our calling to live as agents of peace (Psalm 34:14, Matt. 5:9), we recognize the impossibility of lasting peace because of the fallenness of our world. Yet unlike the unbeliever – who must face this reality with no hope of resolution – we face it with the dual hope that the follower of Christ CAN be at peace in the midst of a world of conflict (John 14:27, Phil. 4:7) and that a day is coming when ALL shall be at peace, while pain and death will pass away (Rev. 21:3-5).
2. Peace exists only insofar as we embody the example of Christ.
We have been given the pathway to peace; it was walked for us by Christ who now asks us to follow in His footsteps. In order to follow His example we do not withdraw from the world, but rather are sent into it (John 17:18). Yet we are not of the world (John 17:16), that is, we do not operate with the same motives, methods, or goals.
As Jesus did, we radically reject power, pride and position, knowing that these are the driving forces of conflict in our world.
As Jesus did, we radically embrace self-sacrifice, love for enemies, and forgiveness as the only pathway to peace.
As Jesus did, we radically seek not the creation and perpetuation of our own mini-kingdoms, but the enduring establishment of the kingdom of heaven.
No other religion – or sappy spirituality, or intellectually dishonest “non-belief” – offers this pathway to real peace. We are not of the world, but we are sent into the world.
3. Peace is a personal call on each of our lives.
Seek peace and pursue it. – Psalm 34:14
Blessed are the peacemakers. – Matthew 5:9
As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. – Romans 12:18
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience… – Galatians 5:22
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. – Colossians 3:15
Christ has shown us the pathway. Now he calls us to walk in it. He does not call governments to create peace. He does not call organizations. He calls people, and offers the hope that He himself will one day complete the work we have started.
And of the greatness of HIS government and peace there will be no end.
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