“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder,and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6 ESV). These words from Isaiah are part of the Old Testament lesson for Christmas Eve. They speak about the Christ and announce that this child will be the “Prince of peace.” In the Gospel lesson for Christmas Eve we hear the angelic hosts sing “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14 ESV).
The peace that the Christ child brings resounds on Christmas Eve. It is a theme that the world has picked up and associated with Christmas and Jesus. For the world, Christmas is the season of peace. It reminds everyone that there should be peace, and if people would just work hard enough – if they were just dedicated enough – then the “spirit of Christmas” could extend throughout the year. Likewise, the world believes that Jesus is a symbol of peace. Here is a man who loved and accepted everyone. If people could just be like Jesus in loving others and not judging them, then there would be the peace the Jesus taught and exemplified.
Yet you don’t have to be a Christian very long to learn that quite often the message about Christ does not bring peace. Instead, it brings strife. The Christian faith makes very bold claims about who Jesus is and what he means for all people. It makes very sweeping claims about the problem that afflicts all people – the fallen, sinful condition of every human being conceived and born in this world. In confessing what Scripture says, it asserts that God is the Creator who ordered his creation and therefore there is right and there is wrong. The Gospel declares that Jesus is Lord who alone is the answer to sin, yet many people prefer to be their own lord and maintain that their way of doing life is perfectly fine. They reject Jesus and the Gospel as foolishness … or worse. As St. Paul wrote:
For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Corinthians 1:22-25 ESV)
This strife does not occur in a vacuum. Instead, it takes place in the midst of relationships. In fact, it takes place in the midst of the closest of human relationships. It takes place in families. Jesus and his word about what he means for our life as God’s children create conflict. These conflicts revolve around whether Jesus is the incarnate Son of God and Savior; whether baptism is Christ’s gift that brings forgiveness and new spiritual life to infants; whether a couple should live together before marriage; and whether homosexuality is a God pleasing way of life.
Jesus is proclaimed as the “Prince of peace” at Christmas, and then he brings strife and division. And yet … this is exactly what Jesus said would happen. He told his disciples:
Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 10:34-39 ESV).
Jesus is Lord, and where people rebel against this, there will be strife. Where they reject God’s ordering and working, and where they wish to be their own gods there will be division. Jesus does not bring peace. At least he doesn’t bring it on the world’s terms.
The child born on Christmas Eve is the Prince of peace because he grows up to be the man hanging on the cross. Through His sacrifice He redeemed us from sin and the devil. St. Paul said:
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-19 ESV).
By his resurrection Jesus Christ defeated death and began the resurrection of the Last Day. Through the work of Christ’s Spirit we are a new creation and we look for the day of his return when he will transform our bodies and renew creation itself. In the present we continue to receive the forgiveness Christ won on the cross through his Means of Grace, and already now we begin to enact this peace through the forgiveness that Christians share with others.
Jesus does not bring the world’s peace. But Jesus is the Prince of peace. He brings peace with God through his reconciling ministry. He brings peace on earth through the forgiveness of sins. And he will on the Last Day bring the final peace that knows no end.