November 27, 2016
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.
As I attempted during Lent, I am once again attempting to blog daily during Advent. I’m going to take what I think is a smarter approach this time in that I will borrow from previous reflections I wrote several years ago, when this was a regular effort in the parish I served. I will hopefully write these well enough in advance so as to have them in your mailbox early in the morning. The readings are taken from the Daily Lectionary found in “Evangelical Lutheran Worship” and relate to the Sunday readings during Advent. Obviously, there will be days I miss, and I beg your forgiveness ahead of time.
We begin with this first Sunday of Advent and one of my favorite readings from Isaiah.
The United Nations garden contains several sculptures and statues that have been donated by different countries. This one is called “Let Us Beat Swords into Plowshares” and was a gift from the then Soviet Union presented in 1959. Made by Evgeniy Vuchetich, the bronze statue represents the figure of a man holding a hammer in one hand and, in the other, a sword which he is making into a plowshare, symbolizing man’s desire to put an end to war and convert the means of destruction into creative tools for the benefit of all mankind.
A sword is a potent symbol of military efforts, while a plowshare symbolizes agricultural life and community.
Welcome to Advent. This is the time of year when we start talking about peace on earth. That theme is everywhere: it’s in the sentiments of the greeting cards we start to send around. It’s in the music we start to sing.
Yet turn on any newscast, pick up any newspaper, or, if you’re like many folks today, read the news online. The images we see, the articles we read, gives us a totally opposite view of the state of the world.
It was no different in Isaiah’s time. The vision of swords being beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks is a nice idea, but all throughout history it has been ridiculed by our experience of the everyday reality of the world. This is a world dominated by the sword.
The sentiment of Isaiah’s beautiful verse is further disdained by the cold hard reality of our own lives. We respond to easily with hatred and violence, too easily with division and strife. We see it in our political discourse, in the language we use for one another, and let’s not leave out how we see it in our holiday shopping—in the checkout lines and the parking lots. We see it everywhere.
But Isaiah’s prophecy, like the statue in the UN garden, is rooted in a future hope – a hope that begins with us.
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,” the prophet says, “that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.”
God’s instruction will be found so that all the peoples may walk in the ways of God. And there we see what our calling is: to make God fully present. To create those places where God can be seen. Those places where God’s grace and love can be known.
We must be open to the invitation to strengthen ourselves in God’s word. In so doing, we become witnesses to a great hope, a transformative hope, a hope that will one day live out the reality that we expect to be fulfilled among us – a life of peace.