Advent 1 -Isaiah 2:1-5
Back when Manny was little, Becky and I vowed that we would never buy him a toy gun. He could play with trucks or dolls or whatever he wanted, except guns. We wanted to raise our child in a non-violent environment. But in our passion to raise passive child, we forgot about human nature. You see, when Manny was still a toddler, we were playing with him outside, and in the midst of our game, he picked up a crooked stick, and began to shoot me. And shortly thereafter, he made himself a gun out of Legos. I believe the current phraseology for this is “epic fail.” And I was reminded of this episode again last year as I was building a Nerf gun arsenal in his closet!
Now, as we come to Isaiah’s vision of a non-violent world today, I wonder if he too was hamstrung by human nature. I mean, he offers us a hopeful image of a world where swords are hammered into plowshares; where instruments of war are transformed into tools of agriculture; where the violence of the sword is reconfigured into a life-giving instrument of peace. What a beautiful image.
But here’s my question: If Isaiah was right, how come we still have swords? Why is violence, and hate-filled rhetoric, and the demonization of “the other” …the other race, the other religion, the other national origin; why are these things still present in our world? Was Isaiah over optimistic? Too Pollyannic? Did Isaiah misjudge the power of our human propensity toward violence? Or is there something else going on here?
I don’t know, but there are some clues in this brief text that may help us to see Isaiah’s vision in a different light. I mean, did you notice how he began speaking about this vision? “In the days to come…” Now, it may seem to our post-modern ears like he’s predicting the future, right? “In the days to come…” But the literal translation from Hebrew is a bit more nuanced. The more precise beginning of Isaiah’s vision literally reads, “In the midst of the present.” Think about that for a second. “In the midst of the present.” You see, Isaiah isn’t fortunetelling here, but instead, he’s suggesting that the present moment is ripe, or to use an appropriate Advent term, pregnant with God’s presence. [i]
Yes, we humans have a violent nature, we turn bent stick and Legos into guns, but we also have the capacity overcome our nature; we have the capacity to life non-violently, peacefully. But, Isaiah, and Jesus for that matter, realized that is a long process. Learning the ways of a non-violent existence is an on-going event in the evolution of humanity. And of course, across our history there have been ebbs and tides, sometimes it even seems like we’ve gone backwards. But for every step back, I think, we’ve taken two steps forward. Now, we’re not there yet, but if we consider where humanity, and by extension the Church, have been in the past, perhaps Isaiah’s vision of peace is slowly coming into focus.
Gandhi seemed to affirm this when he said, “We may never be strong enough to be entirely nonviolent in thought, word and deed. But we must keep nonviolence as our goal and make strong progress towards it.“[ii]
Ya know, it’s not unlike the story of the preschool child who had made a ceramic figure of a camel in Sunday School. The figure was to be taken home as a gift for his parents on the last day of class before Christmas and when the boy saw his parents in the hallway he began to run toward them. However, in his haste, he tripped and fell sending the fragile camel flying through the air, shattering into a hundred tiny pieces as it hit the wall. And of course, the boy was devastated. His father tried to pacify him by saying, “It’s all right, it doesn’t matter.” But the his mother, wiser in such things, quickly corrected the father. “Oh, no,” she said. “It does matter.” And she began to weep with her son. [iii]
On this first Sunday in Advent, the prophet Isaiah is telling those who are listening, including us, that what happens in this world does matter. God has set a beautiful vision peace and tranquility before us even though it’s in our nature to mess it up. Why? Because even in our brokenness, despite our tendency toward violence, God loves us; God cares what happens to us; and God challenges each of us to care about what happens to our neighbor.
Advent is a season when we watch for, prepare for, hope for, work for God’s Reign of Justice, Love and Peace…right here in our time; right here “in the midst of the present.”
May it be so.
Amen & Amen.
[i] Ted Smith Later Days (Day1.org) 2013
[ii] Phil Milam God Inspired Joy (birchwoodhome.blog.com) 2018
[iii] Stephen Montgomery Closer That You Think (Day1.org) 2010