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 Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9:6, NIV
Before we get to the Prince of Peace. I want to share a mystery with you. I have often been puzzled by the rail bridge that lies between junctions 16 and 17 on the M25 near Uxbridge. It carries the Chiltern Main Line Railway over the M25 motorway. And the mystery is that it bears the immortal line “Give Peas a Chance”.
Who does these things? Why would you risk life and limb to hang off the side of a bridge over the M25 to paint, in a reasonably interesting font, “Give Peas a Chance”?
I guess it’s a play on the song “Give Peace a Chance” by John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band. It has no doubt raised a wry smile from hundreds of thousands of motorists, because it is funny when we swap peace with peas.
As a child I had tonsillitis and blocked ears every winter. I remember being confused at Infant School, at a Christmas assembly, when I heard that Jesus was the Prince of Peas. I was less than impressed because peas in the 1970s, at least in my home, were a very singular variety, known as tinned.
It clearly makes little sense to view Jesus as Prince of Peas. But when we look at the world today, we might question what it means that Jesus is Prince of Peace. His first arrival around 2,000 years ago did not usher in a time of peace. Jesus himself did not expect that either; whatever Isaiah had said. When speaking of his return he pointed out that war, rather than peace, would continue. Jesus said this:
You will hear of wars and rumours of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.
Matthew 24:6, NIV
So, what does it mean that the promised child, according to the Prophet Isaiah, will be Prince of Peace? Is Isaiah guilty of over promising? Or did Isaiah get it plain wrong?
Part of the answer is the need to understand what Isaiah meant by peace. The word he used is shalom. This word can refer to the absence of war, corresponding to our English word peace. But it means more than this, as we will see in just a moment.
But to be fair to Isaiah, elsewhere in the Bible, the absence of war brought about by Jesus—Isaiah’s Prince of Peace—is promised and explained further. The question is ‘when will there be peace?’, rather than if there will be peace.
John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band’s sentiment is a wonderful ideal:
All we are saying is give peace a chance.
Jesus, the Prince of Peace, will bring an end to war, but only after his return—in what we might call the beginning of the age to come. Whilst in faith we should be grateful, in our impatience and horror at the reality of war we want this now. Who does not want an end to war right here, right now?
Isaiah’s Prince of Peace—Jesus born in a manager—can bring peace of a different sort, both here and now.
Shalom is a rich word and the foundation of the Bible’s good news. It is about wholeness, about healthiness, about happy relationships and most fundamentally of all it is about peace with God. This latter meaning—peace with God—is a possibility here and now through Jesus our Prince of Peace.
Jesus was sent to this tiny, and otherwise unremarkable planet, by God his Father to make peace with men, women, and children. The brokenness we see that haunts this world is explained in the Bible in the story of how paradise was lost in the garden of Eden. This accounts for our lack of peace, our broken relationship with God.
Whatever we might make of a primeval garden, the broken relationships it describes are self-evident all around us. Humanity in taming the Earth has created untold damage. Men and women struggle to live in harmony under the same roof. Inequality is worked out in our daily choices and can feel hard-baked into reality.
Evidence of all this brokenness, frailty, and that old fashioned idea called sin, is self-evident truth. It is broadcast in the news. Written large in newspapers. Worked out in social media. Is not every person, community, and neighbourhood on this planet blighted by weakness, frailty, bad choices, and that old fashioned addiction called selfishness?
A broken world, and the frail people who broke it, need a peacemaker. Someone who can bring humanity and God to the table to speak of peace. Until that relationship knows peace, shalom in all its other forms cannot begin. Peace with God is what Jesus brought with him in his journey from heaven to earth that first Christmas, and worked out in his life and ministry, and finally in his cross and resurrection.
That the Christmas child is the Prince of Peace is a remarkable claim. It took me eleven years from hearing that Jesus was Prince of Peas to knowing his peace personally. Why not take some time this Christmas to reflect on the possibility that peace with God might be a genuine possibility? You might just find the only present that goes beyond the advertising.
Many Christmas adverts seem to promise that this Christmas will be paradise on earth. But I’m not convinced that Tesco or Waitrose supermarkets, Chanel or Paco Rabane perfumes, Baileys Irish Cream or even Jack Daniel’s whiskey can give us ‘heaven on earth’ or bring ‘peace on earth’. But through Jesus Christ I believe we really can have peace in our time.