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Reflection by Ken Irwin, December 1, 2019 – Words of Hope for a time of Peace
As we move into this Advent Season we notice that God shows up in a variety of ways in anticipation of showing up as a child. This week, God shows up in the heart and mind of the Prophet Isaiah who offers a hopeful vision of peace and justice, a time when all people “shall beat their swords into ploughshares” and war will be no more.
Can we imagine that too?
Reflection 01.12.19 on Isaiah 2: 1-5
Let’s take a moment in prayer:
Holy One, as we begin this season of Advent, we pray for our hearts to be alive with hope, yearning for peace, open to joy, and filled with love; yet knowing that that isn’t always possible. Still, we are grateful for this faith-filled community that gathers together in support, in love, and with a willingness to move into this new season, trusting that you, O God, will show up there with us, as you always do. And may the words of my mouth, the meditations of all our hearts, and the actions of our lives bring us ever closer to the world that you desire for all your people. Amen.
In days to come
So begins this proclamation, and with his words the prophet Isaiah shares a new vision with the people of Judah and Jerusalem, some 700 years before the birth of Jesus. As they had been for much of their history, and would continue to be so for centuries to come, the Hebrew people were under great and constant threat from surrounding nations. The Northern Kingdom of Israel had been annexed by the Assyrian Empire and the southern Kingdom of Judah lived uneasily as a vassal state; in the near-future it would be conquered by the Babylonians, their temple destroyed and many of the people dragged into exile. It was into this milieu that Isaiah offered these beautiful and powerful words of hope, painting an extraordinary canvas of what will be, in the days to come.
Isaiah is the best known and most beloved of the Hebrew prophets. Eugene Peterson, in The Message, describes him this way: For Isaiah, words are watercolours and melodies and chisels to make truth and beauty and goodness. Or, as the case may be, hammers and swords and scalpels to unmake sin and guilt and rebellion. Isaiah does not merely convey information. He creates visions, delivers revelation, arouses belief. He is a poet in the most fundamental sense – a maker, making God present and that presence urgent. Isaiah is the supreme poet-prophet to come out of the Hebrew people. (The Message, Introduction to the Book of Isaiah)
There appear to be two beginnings to the Book of Isaiah. Chapter one looks back at the failure of the Hebrew people to be faithful to their God, YHWH, and delivers a harsh judgement on Judah’s wickedness and injustice, describing scenes of doom and gloom and destruction as a result of God’s wrath against them. But with the words Scott read, Chapter two starts anew, with a fresh vision filled with hope and the promise of peace.
In days to come
Isaiah presents this remarkable vision: ‘In the days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.” Despite all the internal struggles and failures of the Hebrew people and all the external threats from warrior nations, Isaiah offers this revelation of what God has planned. It’s an inclusive vision of all people from all nations, climbing the mountain, flowing up to God; there to learn God’s ways and then to move back into the world to share God’s ways of justice and peace with everyone in every nation. Much of the rest of the Book of Isaiah is filled with judgements and condemnations of Judah, Israel and the surrounding nations, but this passage contains God’s hope, God’s plan for a world at peace. This might be the Hebrew people’s Advent, their time of waiting on a promise that is not yet, a world very different from what they were experiencing then; but a promise that was sure to happen, in days to come.
Many centuries later, with Israel living under the boot of Rome and the despised Herodian monarchy, the early Christian community imagined Jesus to be the embodiment of Isaiah’s future-imagined vision of peace…the Prince of Peace, as he was called, in whom God dwelled in truth and grace. So too, in our season of Advent, we read and hear and cling to this beautiful vision of a world in which war will be no more. It is a timeless prophetic passage that speaks to God’s gracious intent for all nations in all ages. Leanne Van Dyke, in her commentary, says: “This text is a breathtaking restatement of God’s ongoing promises to Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Rachel (the great patriarchs and matriarchs of the Hebrew people). God promises that God will bless the people to be a blessing to the nations and that God will protect the people of Israel for the sake of God’s own mission.” She continues, “Christians understand that blessing is extended to them through Jesus Christ. For them, too, God will bless the church to be a blessing to all people, and God will be faithful to the church for the sake of God’s own mission. God is not done with us yet.” (Connections, Year A, Volume 1)
The daily news is discouraging, even frightening. Wars and threats of war, unrest and protests, intentional and indiscriminate killings, mass murders, threats and acts of terrorism, gun proliferation, deep anger, distrust, alienation and rage seem to be everywhere. Isaiah’s haunting vision expresses our deepest yearnings for peace in this hurting world:
“they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they war any more.”
The image you see on the screen is a picture of a bronze sculpture found in the North Garden of the United Nations in New York City. It was created by Evgeniy Vuchetich, and given as a gift of peace by the Soviet Union to the UN in December of 1959. It was Advent. It was the Cold War. Imagined from Isaiah’s words, and entitled “Let Us Beat Our Swords into Plowshares” the sculpture symbolizes humanities desire to put an end to war and to convert the means of destruction into creative tools for the benefit of all people. Can we make that happen today? – we ask sceptically. In 2008, the city of Culiacan had the highest rate of gun deaths of any city in Mexico. In response to that horrific statistic and during an amnesty, creative artist Pedro Reyes collected 1,527 guns for the project Palas por Pistolos; he melted these guns down and created 1,527 shovel heads; and then the community used the 1,527 shovels to plant 1,527 trees in their city and in other cities around the world, including at the Vancouver Art Gallery. In Reyas’ words, “We are showing how an agent of death can become an agent of life.”
So, yes it can happen, but only with our help. This is God’s plan and one that will come to fruition in God’s time; but there is work for us to do in the world and in our own lives. God has a dream that humanity would unite in a common desire for peace and justice, and we are called to help bring this dream of peace and justice into reality. Where to begin? The Rev. Kathryn Matthews offers this: “the hardest call for us to answer may be in each individual heart, rather than focusing only on the larger world of politics and nations. It is so easy, so human, for our hearts to grow entangled with petty resentments and even larger hatreds, born of frustration and disillusionment.” (Sermon Seeds, First Sunday of Advent, Year A)
Peace needs to start at home, in our own hearts, in our own lives, and then move out from there. We are part of God’s dream, and God’s dream is for peace and justice. So, as we contemplate that in this season of Advent, might we seek out opportunities for peacemaking, for healing, for mending broken relationships, for letting go of anger, for grasping chances to forgive and be forgiven. If we believe our present and our future is with God, then we can trust that God will show up in the pain and the heartache and in the challenge of letting go of that which prevents peace from truly happening.
In this season of darkness, we are called to be peacemakers wherever and however we can; we are called to walk in the light and to share God’s hope for this world. As Isaiah exhorts his people, so he exhorts us, “O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.”
We will do that, today, and in days to come. Amen.
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