Dec. 9, 2007
Isaiah 2: 1-5
Second Sunday in Advent
Our Advent preparations this year take the form of a journey – a trip guided by the prophet Isaiah that will take us through one of the darkest parts of the year and into the light and peace of Christ’s presence – made known to us in the child of Bethlehem, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Last week, Isaiah showed us that the point of origin for our journey is the landmark of a shoot rising out of the root of Jesse – a sign of the miraculous possibility of new life and growth. This week, Isaiah invites us to venture a little farther along the way, and to share a wonderful vision with him. On the right side of the tour bus, Isaiah helpfully points out, you will see the world being drawn to God like a magnet. You will notice God’s word transforming their chaos and violence into order and harmony. Don’t miss the weapons transformation factory, where swords are turned into farm tools and tanks into tractors. You’ll notice, of course, that no one is studying war. They are too busy learning from God and from each other how to walk in the wonderful, peaceful world. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation. Neither shall they study war any more. Isaiah’s vision is a vision of peace. World peace.
The journey to Bethlehem leads through a vision of profound peace. Do we dare to go there? This Christmas season, do we have the courage and the faith to dream that dream?
Or would we rather dream of . . . something more real? I’m indebted to PC Ennis, the theologian in residence in an Atlanta Presbyterian church for noticing a commercial. (I wonder how my approach to my job might change if my business card said, “Theologian in Residence”. Hmmmm.) Apparently, I’d watch more TV, since PC saw a commercial that I haven’t seen. The ad begins with a dreamy vision of a sparkling new bicycle. A child’s voice is heard: “Oh, I hope I get a bicycle for Christmas. I hope to get a bicycle for Christmas – and peace on earth, of course, - but I hope I get a bicycle for Christmas.”
Clearly – the way the TV presents things – to dream of a bicycle is to dream of something real. And world peace? That’s just Christmas season window dressing. That’s just a sentiment on Christmas cards. That’s just something we sing about. Briefly, and not with much heart.
Our very great temptation this Advent season is to ignore Isaiah our tour guide, and to look out the left side of the bus, where SALE banners are hanging in store windows and shiny new bikes look so close we can almost touch them. There’s a vision for Advent. Come, O Come pre-Christmas sale.
This year, focusing on that bike is so much easier because it means we don’t have to deal with the horrible sound of bombs falling around the bus, or worry about IEDs in the road head. You know what I mean? We live in a country that is conducting war right now. Killing and being killed. Maiming and being maimed. Suffering, and inflicting suffering. That’s real.
And up against the nightly news and the hourly radio bulletins and the daily newspapers and the weekly magazines, full of the horrors of war - - - against all that we are invited to believe in a vision of peace? Come on!
But you know what? Isaiah says, Yes! Come on! Isaiah is not some naïve, wide eyed hippie, sitting in field of flowers, doing banned substances and talking about Peace, Man! Isaiah is a war correspondent. Isaiah is battle tested. This vision of peace and light is embedded in 65 chapters of very realistic account of how, over the generations, people’s turning away from the ways of God have resulted in violence and suffering and death. My Calvin College connection, John Witvliet, calls the Isaiah advent passages “The Pretty Passages” of Isaiah and urges preachers to put them in context for congregations.
This is a book written over a couple of generations of the greatest loss and horror a people can suffer. Invasion. Extradition. Living as aliens. And in between graphic and horrifying accounts of the reality of war, Isaiah insists on communicating this persistent vision of peace.
Why bother? What’s the point? The point, according to Isaiah, is that sometimes in this world, what we believe in is more important journey than what the world tells Us is “real”.
Do you trust the world’s version of what is real? What constitutes ‘The way things are’? Are you a fan of reality TV? What’s real about Road Trip? Or . . . that other one where they pick out 10 fantastic looking 20-somethings who don’t have job or family obligations, set them up in a house worth a million dollars, and watch them fight over who cleans up the kitchen. Is that reality?
Who gets to decide what’s reality? In a recent news article, a White House aide was quoted as saying,
..., "Guys like me were 'in what we call the reality-based community,' which he defined as people who 'believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.' "That's not the way the world really works anymore. We're an empire now, and when we act we create our own reality."
Who determines reality? The biggest, boldest empire? But don’t we all know, in our heart of hearts, how unbelievably UN real it is to think that what is happening in the world right now is going to lead to real peace? Saying that locking people up for years and years with no trial and no access to the evidence against them – that that has something to do with freedom – is that realistic? Who gets to say what is a real threat to world peace? Who gets to say what is real?
In a world where we are so regularly misled and distracted from what is happening - Is it so unrealistic to believe the Bible? Even if the Bible tells us that peace is possible? That there is another way to live on this planet? That swords can be beaten into plowshares and we can study war no more?
Isaiah’s vision isn’t a lie. It’s poetry. But it isn’t a lie. It’s prophetic. But it isn’t a lie.
The point of Advent is “do not dismiss the vision of peace as irrelevant. Do not write off the Biblical proclamation of God’s will for our lives as fantasy. (PC Ennis, again)
The vision of peace to which Isaiah directs our attention cannot be ignored as we journey to Bethlehem. It must be seen, and believed, and entered into, if we wish to arrive at the place where God enters the world - Emmanuel – to be with us.
How do we walk in the light of God’s peaceful vision for us and the world? We start by sharing Isaiah’s vision. We take the first steps toward peace in our own lives and in our own families. And we enter into the larger world, our schools, at sporting events, among the communities, looking to learn what makes for peace. And we question the reality of those who preach fear and threats and force.
We hold onto the promise, even when we are told it’s just a dream, the dream of peace on earth. We do our very best to live out that dream and we wait for the day that God has promised, when the dream finally comes true.