Beating Swords Into Plowshares: Actively Waiting this Advent Season
"The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.
Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; 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. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!"
This Sunday marked the beginning of the church year- the season of advent. We begin what’s called the liturgical year by eagerly waiting and anticipating the birth of Christ, much like his mother Mary would have done as Emmanuel- God with Us- grew in her womb for nine months. We spend this season preparing for the coming of Christ, the light, into a dark world. But what this passage from Isaiah points to is that God’s people- Israel- had been waiting much longer than that for their Messiah- the Prince of Peace- to come and usher in a world better than the violent and cruel one that they knew. It’s in the midst of violence and unrest that Isaiah writes these words. Just like Mary went through the pain of labor before the joy of holding her child, Isaiah tells us that we must face this world’s suffering and violence for what it is, before by the grace of God, it can be transformed into something better.
Isaiah casts a hopeful vision of a world at peace, but it comes after he acknowledges in chapter 1, the multitude of ways that Israel has turned away from God. In his vision he declares that God is not satisfied with their offerings, that God would destroy Israel unless they turned to righteousness and began to do the things that really please God: caring for the sick, the orphan, and the widow. This passage in Chapter 2 is like a motivational vision- showing the people of Israel what kind of life they might enjoy if they will embrace God’s ways. A life far different from their reality- a reality where they were constantly at war with other nations, where they’d been exiled from their own land, where violence was a daily reality. By Chapter 7, Isaiah tells Israel what will bring them this peace that they so crave- the coming of a child, called Immanuel, God with us. It’s the birth and life of Jesus that will bring Peace if Israel, if we, have the eyes to see and the ears to hear.
Well, we might think, Jesus came and went 2,000 years ago and where is this peace Isaiah dreamed of? It seems that each advent we wait for it anew- and maybe that’s part of the problem- we’re passively waiting when instead we need to be waiting in an active sense- working as co-creators with God to bring about this peace that we hope for. Like a new mother actively waits for her child- preparing a nursery, caring for her body as it nourishes new life, adjusting priorities and habits to make room for a baby in her home, beginning the season of Advent by reflecting on beating swords into plowshares should remind us that we are called to actively work for peace, to actively welcome Jesus- the Prince of Peace- into the world every single day.
The same effort is required of us in a country that has a problem with violence- a country where children are kept in cages by the government or sold as sex slaves by their parents, a country where this year, we’ve averaged more than 1 mass shooting per day, bringing us to 385 this year, a country that currently has the highest amount of hate groups in our recorded history. Like the Israelites in Isaiah’s time, we need peace, we long for it, but peace doesn’t come from sitting on the sidelines and refusing to sacrifice. Peace comes when we take a good hard look in the mirror, name the violence within and around us, and give up what makes us feel secure in that violence- our swords, our guns, our hoarded wealth, our privileged social status- for the sake of letting the Prince of Peace, Jesus, reign not just in our own hearts but in the world around us.
Artisans and activists in the United States and Mexico have shown us what Isaiah’s vision looks like today, beating guns into gardening tools that in one Mexican city were used to plant over 1,500 trees.
People in Lincoln showed the world what peace-making in action looks like when LGBTQ+ activists and affirming Christians surrounded the downtown Cultiva coffee shop this week with signs of love and acceptance when members of the Westboro Baptist Church came to terrorize the business and its customers. This is my friend Steve who joined the group combating the hatred and spiritual violence that Westboro was promoting.
Isaiah’s vision and the vision of the whole Christian story- is one of life coming from death. Tools from weapons, peace from violence, love from hate, and joy from fear. So this Advent, we can’t sit passively in our churches and wait for Peace to come- for Jesus to reign on Earth as in heaven. We have to do the work of beating swords into plowshares, of setting our own hearts into a posture of peace, of treating others peacefully even when they approach us with violence.
In their book, Beating Guns – authors Shane Claiborne and Michael Martin- some American Christian activists who’ve been turning guns into shovels, suggest that to bring peace in this country we not only need fewer weapons but also changed hearts. Rather than pointing at someone else and claiming they’re the problem, we have to take responsibility for the part that we’ve played in perpetuating violence. They say that we have to change the narrative around violence and hatred by telling our stories and listening to the stories of people we disagree with.
So whether it’s sharing your story or listening to someone else’s, using art as tool for transforming weapons of violence into tools for supporting life, supporting organizations that are building peace, or divesting from businesses and products that promote violence- just like those is Isaiah’s time, we’re called this advent season not to wait passively but to be active in making peace a reality in our world. How will you commit to actively working for peace this Advent season?