For these past many years (at least 5 or 6 of them), each Advent I have carefully followed a discipline of reading and prayer. But in this year when everything has been changed (really, aren’t they all that way), I have decided to follow a different kind of devotional practice. Instead of reading someone else’s reflection, I am going to create my own reflections for the season.
This is a little bit like the time that I entered into an unholy blog-post-a-day-for-thirty-days pact with a couple of pastors. I find myself in the place where I need to get my writing and reflecting juices flowing, flowing like a great big river in fact, because they are, well, not. So this time I’m going to make a pact with myself (of course, if anyone out there wants to join me…feel free).
I’m a few days past the actual start of Advent, but that’s okay. I think I’ll keep going until the actual end of the Christmas season at Ephiphany, just to make up for the late start. As my source, I’m going to use an online Advent calendar created by Merry Watters and Thomas Mousin and posted each year on their blog. And I think, right now, I’m going to choose the theme of light, because I could stand some light in my life this season (although I reserve the right to change themes at will…this is, after all, my very own project and my very own blog). And now, to work.
And it is fitting that I choose the theme of light for my reflections, because that is one of the themes of today’s reading from the book of Isaiah:
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!
The phrase that probably rings the “oh, I’ve heard that” bell in your head is in verse 4: “…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.” The imagery appears again in the writing of the prophet Joel (3:10) and the prophet Mica (4:3). These words have been used over and over again as a most powerful description of what it might look like if the world and humanity came to live in peace: these words are in the finale of the musical Les Miserables and in Michael Jackson’s 1991 song Heal the World.
In the first decade of this new century, when I was still flying around the world auditioning and singing, I had the chance to visit Leipzig, Germany, for the first time. I was so excited; Leipzig, the home of Bach, Wagner, Mendelssohn…the home of German romanticism and so much more. I wandered the streets, looking at the newly revived historic center (after all the Wall had only fallen in 1990). And then, I wandered into Thomaskirche and sat down in a pew, marveling at the magnificent space that gave first performance to so much beautiful church music, and I picked up a pamphlet about the history of the church.
It wasn’t a pamphlet about the musical glories of the church’s history — it was the story of the important role that Thomaskirche and all the churches played in the events that led to the very fall of East Germany. The movement that began as an underground resistance gathering grew and grew and became a people’s cry for peace and freedom that could not be denied. And do you know what their symbol was and what their slogan was? “Schwerter zu Pflugsharen”….swords into plowshares. In a closed, fascist society such as East Germany, it was dangerous to join a movement like this one, so to identify themselves to like-minded people, the members began to sew a little patch on their clothing…a picture of swords being made into plowshares.
When the prophet Isaiah writes about beating swords into plowshares, when he writes about walking in the light, he writes about his world in which the kingdom of God was divided in two, when the “house of Jacob” had turned away from God’s ways. And he writes to us across the ages about the coming of peace, a peace he really believed was at hand — peace in the world, peace in us. And isn’t that what Advent is all about? Unlike the season of Lent, this is not a time to remember our sinful nature, our failings, all the things that make us unlovable in our own eyes. And Advent isn’t even about that kind of painful longing, a longing that we believe cannot possibly be fulfilled no matter how much we want it.
Advent is about embracing the peace we know can come, about walking in the light that we know is already here…if we but live into it. Swords can become plowshares so easily, if we just let them, and darkness can become light, if we only open our eyes to the love of God all around us. These changes must start with each of us now if they are to spread and bring forth Isaiah’s vision of a world of peace and light and cooperation. The people of Thomaskirche in Leipzig knew that truth and risked everything when they sewed those little patches on their clothing.
What little, simple act, can you take today, to bring about Isaiah’s dream?