Greeting in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today is the Fourth Sunday in the Season of Advent.
At present and for countless generations that have gone before us, we find ourselves in a world at war within its very warp and woof — all creation entangled in a malediction, brimming with sufferings, subjected to futility, in bondage to corruption, and groaning for freedom. Toil and travail with the sweat of the brow as men bring forth the fruit of the earth and women bring forth the fruit of the womb. All from the one transgression of the First Adam, which abounded in death to all who are in him.
But the Last Adam from his one act of obedience abounds in life to all who are in him. As the Advent hymn reminds us, Christ “comes to make his blessings flow as far as the curse is found, as far as the curse is found.”
Still, his mere appearing did not banish war all at once. In many ways, Christ the King stirs up greater war, because this present world, the world at war, does not know him and does not want peace. “Think not that I have come to bring peace but a sword,” he says, “and a man’s enemy shall be those of his own household.” And we who are in him are his hosts, his army against spiritual darkness with weapons of warfare that are not of the flesh, i.e. not of this world.
In Isaiah 10, the prophet spoke of the mighty God using the wicked Assyrian king and his armies as a battle-axe to do his will and chop down rebellious Israel like a boastful tree. But out of that hewn stump, the Messiah will rise up like a new shoot and branch, and a faithful remnant from Israel will lean on him for strength. The prophet foresees a world turned from war to peace under the reign of the Messiah described in symbols of wild beasts and their prey made to dwell in peace with one another:
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips she shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins.
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples — of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.
Isaiah 11:1-10 (ESV)
Christ “comes to make his blessings flow as far as the curse is found,” and he does this by becoming a curse for us (Gal. 3:10-14). In a series of typological anti-parallels, Christ replicates what Adam did and undoes what Adam wrought. As an act of transgression, Adam partakes of the tree of the knowledge (discernment) of good and evil, i.e. a tree of judicial wisdom, which kills the partaker. As an act of obedience by the command of God, Christ partakes of a tree of judicial wisdom, the Cross of Calvary, which kills him. For it is written, “cursed is everyone who is hanged upon a tree.” The very thorns and thistles sprouting up from the earth under the curse are fashioned into a crown for the Suffering Servant who is made into the Conquering King, who is enthroned upon his tree of death and cursing, and who becomes in himself a tree of life and blessing for all those who look upon him in faith.
But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.
Isaiah 53:5 (ESV)
During Advent, we make an annual pilgrimage of the heart through memories of the past and expectations for the future with messages meant to stir and strengthen in us the Spirit’s fruit of enduring hope, faith, joy, and peace. And here on the Lord’s Day of Peace in Advent, we may look back over the journey and tie these themes together in the words of the Apostle Paul:
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Romans 5:1-5 (ESV)
This world at war with itself within which we suffer and groan is being worked by our glorious God to produce all manner of good within those who love him and have been called according to his purpose. In this, we find our peace for today, a peace that flows into our present by the Spirit from the world at peace, which is the world to come.
Therefore, hear and heed this charge from the Lord to abide in his enduring peace:
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
John 14:27 (ESV)
Receive now the benediction of our Lord unto peace surpassing all understanding:
Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all.
2 Thessalonians 3:16 (ESV)