First Sunday of Advent
“They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nations shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Is. 2:4).
During these weeks of Advent we will be preaching the visions from the prophet Isaiah. The problems with preaching visions is they don’t seem real—they sound too good to be true! This vision we heard today from the second chapter of Isaiah promises the end of war. How can this be true?
In preaching visionary texts the temptation, too often, is to find some way to explain them away, to make them more relevant, to soften them lest they seem foreboding. When things seem too good, there is always the other sense that people are being held responsible to make things right. After all, Advent is really about getting us geared up for Christmas, so we don’t want to get too gloomy.
But, as David Lose, reminds us, the flip side of judgment is always justice, and the dominant rationale for judgment in both Old and New Testaments is, in fact, how well we connect with God’s concern for how we treat one another and especially those most vulnerable.
So, David Lose would say, give up any notion of God’s judgment and you’ve also abandoned any meaningful sense of God’s justice, of God’s determination to hold us accountable for how we treat each other and creation.1
So, on this First Sunday of Advent, let’s be prepared to get in touch with our undomesticated, untamed, uncultivated, and wild God who wants justice for all peoples! Let’s open our ears to this Advent God who assures us that amazing, astounding and awesome things can happen!
Barbara Lundblad reminds us that these Sundays of Advent provide us a marvelous opportunity to not only hear the words of the prophet Isaiah, but to actually “see” the word in all their glory. Did you notice how the text from Isaiah began” “The word of Isaiah, son of Amoz, saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem…” Normally, we hear words! This Advent, words are not only for hearing, but also for seeing. 2
Today, a plough takes center stage…..a plough that points us toward a promise made by God to God’s people—judgment and justice—that there will come a time when making peace is more important than making war, when cultivating life is more important than destroying life.
See thevision once again: “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” [Is. 2:4].
So what are Christians to do? Do we wear a mask of futility? If Isaiah is not a naïve fanatic and a Pollyanna prophet, then how can we even begin to trust his vision, the promise of God that “swords will be turned to plowshares and spears into pruning hooks”? How can we talk of promise in so unpromising a world?
I can only do so by telling a story! It’s a true story! But it cannot be only my true story! It has to be your true story, also! It is the story of a child, and the child I know best is my grandchild, so his is the name I will use. For you, it may your child, your grandchild, your niece, nephew, or maybe a good family friend. Make this story your own!
My story begins when my grandson arrives at our house. There is hardly a time when Austin doesn’t come to our house, when soon after his arrival he says: “Grandpa, can we go downstairs and play with the trains?” There is also a castle we are building together, and so he sometimes might say, “Grandpa, can we work on the castle?”
Usually, there are other things we plan to do immediately—baking a pie, running out to the store, or maybe even eating lunch. And I will say to him, “Austin, we can’t do it right now, but I promise that before you go home, we will work on that castle, or we will go downstairs together and play with the trains.”
Most often, that is enough for him to hear. All of a sudden he gets focused on what we are doing right away. He gets involved in the activity at hand. But, I guarantee, he never forgets the castle or the trains. He never forgets the promise I made to him. He never forgets the promise!
The answer then is the answer now. No matter how unpromising this world, God’s promises are sure. “Grandpa, can we go down and see the trains?” And I see the look of trust on a little boy’s face when I say, “not yet, but I promise it will happen!”
Trusting God’s promises for a different world begins with proclaiming the wild grace of our untamed and uncultivated God!
Trusting God’s promises for a different world is the determination to make God’s vision come true today.
Trusting God’s promise of turning swords into plowshares is putting together 250 personal care kits for those who don’t even own a toothbrush and a bar of soap……
Trusting God’s promise of turning spears into pruning hooks is making 50 quilts that will provide warmth for those without shelter……
Trusting God’s promise of turning swords in the plowshares is demanding stronger voices on the moral urgency of immigration reform…..
Trusting God’s promise of turning spears into the pruning hooks is insisting on louder voices against hate crimes for the most vulnerable right here in this community…..
Trusting God’s promises of turning spears into pruning hooks is volunteering an hour or a night for the C.A.R.E.S. program or for the soup kitchen…..
Trusting God’s promises of turning swords into plowshares is claiming determined voices against drones and nuclear warheads that continue to kill innocent people…..
This Advent, don’t only hear the vision; see the vision come alive! Become the kind of believer who believes so much in astounding visions and amazing promises that we cannot help but begin making them happen now!
This Advent claim the freedom Jesus proclaimed as ours! Believe in God’s power to fulfill God’s promises through us! Believe that swords can become plowshares! Believe that visions are not simply about the future. Believe that a promise can shape the present. And if you are not sure, just ask a child. Amen.
1David Lose in www.workingpreacher.org. The Undomesticated God, November 21, 2010.
2Barbara Lundblad in www.workingpreacher.org. Commentary on Isaiah 2:1-5.