Twas a mountain-chilled Christmas morn. Gifts had been opened; hot sugar-glazed cinnamon rolls were overeaten. I loaded our young daughter Elizabeth into a chest pack, left our cabin and started up the road, Valley of the Falls Boulevard. I hoped to work off the calories from the eggnog. Nearing the crest I watched in horror as another young dad I knew topped the hill towards me. He suddenly staggered, clutched his chest and then fell, apparently dead to the ground. I sprinted towards this young pops. I saw the assailant. It was his young son. With Christmas gift in hand, an orange-tipped AK47 he had just unwrapped that morning, the boy was shouting, “Bang, bang dad. You are dead!” I too stopped dead in my tracks shaking my head. “This is just wrong, plain wrong on Christmas morn, the birthday of Sar Shalom, the Prince of Peace.” Now, don’t get me wrong. I was the Commander for the Sheriff’s Mountain Search and Rescue Team. I was range qualified. But this was Christmas!
The year might have been around 733 BSR-Before Sar Shalom. Tiglath-Pileser drove his Assyrian troops hard into Israel. A country torn by Civil War centuries earlier was now overrun yet again by invading armies. Doomsayers were spreading gloom. Famine and forced marches to distant lands demoralized God’s people. But a prophet arose with a prophetic name & hope, “Yahweh Saves,” AKA Isaiah. Out of the demoralizing darkness, those who had been living in the shadow of death saw a great light. (Isaiah 9:1-2) Isaiah then spoke these words of hope in verse 6:
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called
Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father,
The Prince of Peace.
Prophetic fulfillment doesn’t march to the timetable of immediate gratification. In 722 BSR the 10 northern tribes of Israel were carried away. In 586 Before Sar Shalom, Judea also was emptied into Babylon. Finally, in the days of Herod the Great’s reign, 37-4BSR, Magi came from the east simply saying, “Where is he? The one born King of the Jews?” Herod would have been rattled, “Born King?” That is a credential Herod, the puppet potentate of Caesar did not have. Caesar Augustus, whose own birth was called, “Good News,” and who thought he could bring Pax Romana, the Peace of Rome made a discovery: The political powers of the day where mere pawns and puppets in God’s perfect choreography for the birth of the Christ, Sar Shalom. This too should be a lesson for us to reflect upon in our hyper-politicized culture.
Just a few miles east of the House of Bread, Bethlehem, where the Bread of Life was born, King Herod had a heavily fortified hilltop palace called the Herodion. Shepherds who were keeping watch over their flocks at night could have been within a kilometer or two of this opulent castle when they saw the earliest Christmas lights and heard the first carolers. Listen in on their experience:
An angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord lit up their surroundings
A great company of Carolers AKA heavenly host appeared praising God and saying
Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth
peace among people
A few years ago I was walking through those same shepherd fields in Bethlehem. I was trying to use holy imagineering to enter the Christmas story. Along a rock pathway partially covered with dirt something golden caught my eye. Being an amateur archaeologist my Indian Jones expectations were stirred until…I had the object in hand. It was a spent round from the recent heated battles of Bethlehem and the West Bank. Once again I was reminded, not just at the time of Christmas, but the place of the first Christmas, peace is so elusive.
Its Christmas time with the remarkable story of Sar Shalom’s birth. But please, let’s not confine the Prince of Peace to a time and a place, to one day a year and a temporary armistice. Let’s allow the Prince of Peace to be our ever present Lord for how we treat our spouses, our daughters and sons, a migrant worker like Ruth of Bethlehem or Juan from Baja or a homeless teen downtown.
Encounter Sar Shalom this season. Share Sar Shalom this Christmas. Give, as your greatest gift, Sar Shalom. No more spent rounds littering our relationships. Then we can say with the Apostle Paul, “Let the shalom, the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to shalom, peace.” (Col 3:15 NIV)
Dr. Terry O’Casey
Director, The School of Christian Ministry, Associate Professor of Christian Ministry and Bible Co-Pastor of High Lakes Christian Church