A Christmas Meditation

Every warrior’s boot used in battle
And every garment rolled in blood
Will be destined for burning
Will be fuel for the fire.

The chorus is one of the three high points in George Frideric Handel’s masterpiece, The Messiah. The other two are the Hallelujah! chorus and the grand finale, Worthy is the Lamb that was Slain. This familiar chorus, coming as it does after ten Advent solos and choruses, finally makes the Christmas announcement using the words of Isaiah

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given
And His name shall be called:
Wonderful! Counselor!
The Mighty God, the Everlasting Father,
The Prince of Peace.

“The Prince of Peace.” The Hebrew word usually translated “prince” is an interesting one. It is the same word used in Joshua 5. Joshua sees a man with a sword drawn and asks, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” The man responds, “Neither, but as commander of the Lord’s army I have come” (Joshua 5:14). The name of this Child of Bethlehem is “Commander of Peace.” Military commanders are in charge and direct the course of war. The Child of Bethlehem is a new kind of Commander, a Commander not in charge of war but of Peace.

We seldom reflect on this verse within its context. The previous verse sheds some interesting light on Isaiah’s announcement of the birth of Jesus. Verse five tells us that “warrior’s boots” and “garments rolled in blood” will be destroyed by fire. Governments established by military victory will be overthrown. A new government will be established, not by war but by the zeal of the Lord (verse 7). A peaceful government that will never end. A government made secure not by its by military strength, but by justice and righteousness.

Christmas 2021 is the first Christmas in twenty years that the United States is not at war. With President Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan in August, the War on Terror (at least the military aspect of it) is over. America is not at war. But it also is not at peace. We are an anxious people. We are tempted to blame the COVID virus that has affected our lives in so many ways over the last two years. But our behavior tells a different story. While many refuse to get vaccinated, which is the best defense against the virus, gun sales are at an all-time high. We average two shootings on school property every month. Many are calling for civil war. This is not a nation at peace.

The Hebrew word for “peace” is shalom. Shalom means more than the absence of conflict. Shalom does not comes from the warrior’s boot or every garment rolled in blood. It is not the product of the most powerful military in the history of the world or an assault weapon safely secured in our home. This government was established by the shedding of blood, not on battlefield or in a peaceful demonstration that got out of hand, but on a cross. The garment rolled in blood that established God’s shalom was a purple robe, which together with a crown of thorns served as props for a mocking ceremony.

Shalom is the blessing given to those who submit their lives fully to a King who was mocked. The Kingdom of this King is not maintained by military might, but by justice and righteousness. At the King’s birth angels announced the arrival of shalom.

Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.

The Commander of Shalom has arrived. You won’t find him in Jerusalem, or in Rome, or in Washington. No regal attire or military medals identify him as someone important. You will find him in an obscure village, wrapped in swaddling clothes and sleeping in a manger. He’s not being guarded by a military detachment. He’s being guarded by shepherds and angels.

This is my prayer for you this Christmas, when peace seems to be so illusive:

May the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way.
The Lord be with all of you.