As we once again begin the Advent season hundreds of millions of people–no, maybe closer to billions of people–set out today and every day without any thought whatsoever to the possibility of swords being beaten into plowshares or spears into pruning hooks. They have no concept at all of what true peace–God’s peace–is, much less that it should be “given a chance.” many have simply given up hope.
And while they wouldn’t mind a bit if nations no longer lifted up swords (or AK47s) against other nations or against their own people, what they really want is to just get something to eat and drink, or even the most basic roof over their head at night or under the hot, noonday sun. Certainly the thought that no one would learn war anymore is just so far outside the normal equation of life that it doesn’t register at all.
That’s not to denigrate Isaiah, by any means. It’s just that for most of the world, dreaming is a luxury. Peace is impossible. Life, in all its drudgery, just goes on and on and on. Of what tangible use is a vision when your child’s belly aches from hunger?
And what tangible use is an old, old vision when your own country is torn apart politically and socially. Three years ago we engaged in a bitterly fought, ugly, and highly partisan election waged on just about everything BUT the actual issues that should, in a rational world, determine how voters will cast their ballots? Today we’re in the midst of an effort to impeach the President of the United States and remove him from office. It’s alleged that he led a conspiracy to bribe and coerce a foreign leader so that his own domestic political future would be enhanced. Hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer-funded aid for military and social assistance was involved. We are at least weeks away from a trial in the Senate to resolve the matter. In less than a year voters will go to the polls to weigh in on it all, as well.
We Americans live in a country that becomes more and more “tribalized” every day. As a result we don’t want to have anything to do with those “other guys” (whether they be Republicans, Democrats. African Americans, Hispanics, whites, Sikhs, Muslims, or, well, I could go on and on here). We’re stressed. We’re worn out. We’re afraid. We’re at our wit’s end.
And so are we crazy or foolish to hold up ancient prophetic words as having any meaning whatsoever for a world that doesn’t have the time or energy or experience to dream?
No, we’re not.
After all, how can any intelligent person believe in God knowing what’s going on in Syria? Or what’s happened in the past in Sudan and Rwanda and Uganda and Auschwitz and so many, many other places. There’s climate change. And Brexit. And a coup of some sort in Bolivia.
But, then, why must everyone and everything be rational?
We follow Jesus, the prince of peace, the chosen one of God who changed everything. True, most of the world doesn’t know it or recognize it. But that doesn’t mean it’s any less true. It’s still real.
Isaiah envisions a hoped-for time when the peoples of the world would go up to the mountain of the Lord, there to learn of God’s ways, to transform swords and spears, and then to go from there to walk in the light:
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! Isaiah2:1-5 NRSV
The nation in which I live is still involved in two major wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as giving aid to Syrian rebels. And then there’s the so-called “war on terror.” But I can’t quite get away from the notion that if our response to international terrorists is to wage another “war,” maybe we’re missing the point in all that somewhere. For a good case can be made that the more we do battle with perceived enemy combatants/terrorists who happen to also be marching under the flag of a militant and virulent form of Islam, then aren’t we somehow creating even more such “enemies”? And what about the militant and virulent forms of Christianity, the KKK, neo-Nazis, other white nationalists, and assorted hate-fueled militants?
Just because the world appears to be preoccupied with the present moment of meeting urgent physical needs that doesn’t mean Isaiah’s vision is a fool’s errand. The fulfillment of that prophetic voice involves human beings committed to peace in all its various expressions. And so we feed the hungry, house the homeless, protect the vulnerable, respect the minorities, and in the process we raise the standard of God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
That is as real as all the individual and collective human tragedies in our world today. To do something about it all means we are part of those on their way up to the mountain of the Lord.
It’s a beginning.
My most recent book, Speak to the Bones: How to Be a Prophetic People in a Time of Exile, is up on Amazon in both print and e-book formats: 161-page Book ; Kindle e-book. The ancient Hebrew prophets can serve as guides for modern-day prophetic communities to engage in actions for peace and social justice. Each of the 10 chapters includes questions for reflection and discussion, making this great for class use. My previous book What Was Paul Thinking? is also available on Amazon in both print and Kindle e-book editions.