Preacher: Nathan Hosler
Scripture: Matthew 24:36-44, Isaiah 2:1-5, Psalm 122, Romans, 13:11-14
When I was a growing up, my family would go camping for our summer vacation. In addition to camping type activities such as hiking and mountain biking and campfires and the necessary scouring of the campsite for wood to burn, we would often visit museums and the occasional historic reenactment village. These would include people in historic dress doing historic things such as weaving or shooting muskets.
On a handful of occasions these included a blacksmith. More than once there was a blacksmith making knives—heating and pounding on metal to forge a blade. Sometimes this was from scrap metal or an old wood file (as far as I know this was never included bits of missiles—which is unfortunate for this illustration). I thought this was great… and realistically I would still kind of like to try it someday.
Our family was a carpentry family. I could make stuff from wood, but those knives were something else. Often the handles were made from a deer antler or perhaps polished wood. These were, however, always too expensive for elementary or middle school me to commit to. Eventually, I found one that was small enough and cheap enough to buy. Still with the hand forged blade but this one with a bullet casing as the handle. This sounds like Isaiah.
Today we begin Advent—the preparation for the coming of Jesus—the birth of the awaited Messiah. The one envisioned, proclaimed, dreamed about and anticipated by the prophets and God’s people. The themes of preparation and being ready pervade our scripture passages. Preparation and attentiveness but also peace. Rather than preparing for war, the peoples will live in peace.
Turning weapons of war into tools of peace. They will study war no more. They will get rid of the weapons of war—both not preparing for war and getting rid of the tools of war—no more real or manufactured threats. War will not cease through deterrence and might but through something else. Weapons of destruction will be turned into tools of peace. Swords to ploughshares and spears to pruning hooks is a preparation for the peaceful work of farming and cultivating the earth. This passage is perhaps second or third in a short list of iconic biblical passages about peace—just behind “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God” or “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” This passage has animated the imaginations of those longing, praying, and working for peace.
Peace and preparation for the coming of Christ. The coming noted is not really the coming of a cuddly Christmas baby (as cute as that may be—especially if in a cute little Christmas sweater) but more the coming of the culmination of the age. While this isn’t the coming of the end in a chaotic way or scary zombie movie way it is also feels somehow less “Christmassy.” Additionally, while there is preparation and work it is also not merely a long slog or a future of struggle but God bringing it about. It is not simply a NGO’s 5 year strategic plan towards 100 year goals (as much as I support such efforts). Isaiah shouts,
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 anymore.
This is the preparation for the one who will be called the Prince of Peace. The one who will proclaim the casting down of the powerful and rich and haughty. This one will turn things around—or at least turn upside-down.
Isaiah pronounces that God will judge between the peoples. This divine diplomacy and verdict giving will mean that though conflict may not cease, wars will. Wars and even the preparation for wars will come to an end. This coming right relationship between peoples will be as part of our right relation to God.
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.
With Isaiah we say, “[C]ome, let us walk in the light of the LORD!”
And with the Psalmist we say “Let us go to the house of the LORD!” Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May they prosper who love you. Peace be within your walls, and security within your towers.” For the sake of my relatives and friends I will say, “Peace be within you.” For the sake of the house of the LORD our God, I will seek your good. And in Romans; “[Y]ou know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light;”
The long game of peace and the waiting preparation need hope. Theology and spirituality that does the work of preparation hope cannot be detached from suffering. While not detached, it is also not overcome or determined by it nor based on a flimsy optimism. The hope must rest somewhere outside observing the world and assuming that everything is bound to turn out for the best.
A theology of hope and peace shaped by the Advent longing does the serious work of challenge and comfort, expectation of God’s action and determination in our own calling. The Gospel of Matthew exhorts—“Keep awake therefore” and with Romans, “It is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers.” Our salvation is nearer—the Christ is coming!
The liberation of all creation which waits and groans in eager expectation draws near—“For creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now and not only creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:19-23)
Our salvation is nearer—the Christ is coming!
Omar Harami, Palestinian Christian from Jerusalem and struggler for justice described peacemaking for me in this way:
“The city of Jerusalem is the city that gave witness to our faith- the crucifixion, death and resurrection of our Lord, we are also in a way the city of Jerusalem as we continue to testify to the miraculous resurrection.
Peace is a beautiful word, even the worst tyrants talk about peace and claim they desire it, but their peace is not the peace of our lord.
Like every dish, the right ingredients and the proper way of making it will determine the success in making it to tasty meal
We as Christians believe that Justice is the main ingredient to make peace, peace without restorative justice is simply impossible.
Peace is both the gift and our calling, a promise and a hope. We are called to be peacemakers because the God of justice is characterized by peace. Peace is the hope of Advent, the gift of the one called the Prince of Peace, and the vocation to which we are called. May the Spirit who birthed creation and continually brings new life, fill us with a surprising and lasting hope for peace this Christmas season.