Then they will beat their swords into iron plows
and their spears into pruning tools.
Nation will not take up sword against nation;
they will no longer learn how to make war. (Isaiah 2:4)
This passage is read during Advent because it anticipated the day of the Messiah’s coming, and now for Christians it anticipates the day of Jesus’ return to make all things new. This is one of the most known, most quoted passages of scripture.
Too bad it’s never going to happen.
We lose hope in this message when we are tired of how things are in the world. We find the words beautiful, yet haunting, because we can’t imagine this day’s coming. We write it off as a dream. We are too tired to believe. We are tired by conflicts in our families. Tired of seeing war on the news, knowing that every day someone is dying of preventable causes. We are tired of violence by police officers. Tired of failing school systems. We are tired of knowing that people go hungry, when we know there are enough resources in the world. We are tired of being hungry. We are hungry, and everyone knows it.
As Christmas approaches, commercials suggest things that will satisfy our hunger. A phone that records video is more than a “smart phone;” it’s something that brings family together, captures our happiest moments with friends, the cutest things our kids have done; it holds onto our favorite memories. A toy is more than a toy; it helps the whole family feel like a kid again; it brings adults back to childlike wonder. The trappings of commercial Christmas speak to our hunger.
Still, as we’re cleaning up between Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve, something in us feels empty again. Neither the presents nor the togetherness with family and friends have satisfied our deepest needs.
Daunting and impossible as they seem, these words from Isaiah are our deepest need and longing: The end of violence and conflict among all people and nations, turning tools of death into tools that give life (weapons into plows and pruning shears), relationships of peace and unity. When we look to the next verse, we see why this vision is not only possible, but certain.
Come, house of Jacob, let’s walk by the Lord’s light. (Is.2:5)
Whatever deep darkness we experience, there is always evidence that God’s light is with us. We know Jesus’ promise to be with us always, until the end of the age. Jesus is the light who has gone into the deepest of darknesses, into the shadow of death. Jesus, the light, is leading the world toward Isaiah’s vision.
We are participants in walking toward its fulfillment. We may not know how to get to the end goal, but God sheds light on our path day by day. We may not turn all weapons into tools of life by tomorrow, but tomorrow we could change one weapon in our family or our church or our town. A few steps at a time, we will walk into God’s light.