Excerpted from Keep Awake, an Advent Guide for Lectionary Year A from the North Carolina Council of Churches.
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!
War isn’t waged only with bullets and bombs, though that is certainly in the news these days. War is also personal with a different arsenal of weapons. Our words. Our lack of words. Even our absence. War isn’t always caused by being there; sometimes it’s about not being there. But whether we wage war with bullets or words, war is a skill that must be learned. Isaiah says as much. We must study it extensively and practice it rigorously. The only way to move away from waging war is to practice peace more extensively and more rigorously.
One of the prominent features of Isaiah’s vision for peace is that we should all practice. We know war is hard to master; why should peace be any easier? We have to be taught the ways of peace and like any acquired skill, we have to practice them over and over and over again to get really good. I used to know the periodic table from beginning to end, but I don’t even know the first five elements anymore. I don’t use chemistry; I haven’t used it since the first week of my freshmen year of college when I went to two lectures, one lab, and the drop-add office in that order. Why do we think it would be any easier for us to retain the lessons of peace—if, indeed, we’d ever learned them—when we don’t practice them?
When we come into God’s presence and review the grand tapestry of God’s mercy throughout history, we can’t help but notice its totality: no trouble is beyond the reach of God’s mercy, no quarrel is beyond God’s reconciliation, no abandonment renders us so helpless that God cannot help. Our lives look very different if we studied those truths more fervently than we study office politics, hone personal grudges, or manufacture weapons of mass destruction. We would no longer need our swords and spears, literally or figuratively. With God reaching out to enfold us, right along with all the ones from whom we believe our swords will protect us, we will find that we don’t need our swords.
The Prince of Peace whose advent we announce today carries no sword or spear. He comes into our midst unprotected knowing that we’ve all got a sword hidden somewhere that we might use. Most of life is lived in a wide gray area of ambiguity and uncertainty. Sometimes there’s a sliver of pure right or absolute wrong on the outer edges where we convince ourselves we might need a sword. But there’s only been one who stood with certainty in the place of no ambiguity, the only place where a sword can rightly be put to use. And the one who stood in that place told his followers—and we are they—put away the swords.
You know the story when they came for Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. They came out to arrest him with swords and clubs as if he were a bandit; and one of his disciples took a sword and struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his ear. But Jesus touched his ear and healed it. And he said, “No more of this.”
No more of this. Amen.