I’m a big fan of weekly devotionals rather than daily – for those out there who wrestle with matters of faith and life like me, and in the midst of a season like Advent, prefer to wrestle more deeply with things. So that takes time…more than just a day.
So for this year, I’m taking the Isaiah texts from the Lectionary and coupling them with an Advent Hymn. I love hymns, even at my young age (35!). I grew up with them. Often times, they’re dismissed by my generation and younger in favor of more “contemporary” stuff. But to me contemporary means “singable” – they’re easy to sing along to.
But for me, contemporary means even more than that. Because singable means it takes on a voice – a voice that is heard, and resonates with our soul. Contemporary means song that speaks & gives voice to people and things of the present. And so for me, hymns are contemporary – or should I say, they can be. That said, let’s move on to the topic at hand.
Read: Isaiah 2:1-5
The book of Isaiah in a lot of ways is a book of our time – the nation of Judah was facing conquest from all around – threats to their nation and to their way of life. War was the reality of the day – war waged by kings – political powers – for their interest and gain.
And caught in between are people – ordinary folk. Farmers, laborers, families; people who for the most part go about their days and routines relatively unnoticed. But war affects all people, and often times it’s those without a piece in the game that are most affected. It wears on people. It makes them question and doubt what is right and good.
And as I think about our world today, there are many places where war is fully present – wars in the Middle East and drug wars in Mexico and South America. But also, wars over religion and class and race in the United States – wars where words are used as swords and spears – for the personal gain of an individual or group.
And caught in the middle of all this warring are people. And whether the instruments are sophisticated weaponry of our time, or words, the affect is the same – people are affected by them. The violence of those instruments rob people of life and growth.
And honestly, I – like many – grow weary and question everything around me. And, it makes me a bit cynical and hostile to “prophets and kings” who proclaim peace and inclusivity, but in reality create conflict and division.
The prophet Isaiah announces God’s promise in the midst of that, and a surprising one – one that comes about by peace, not war. “they shall beart their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” (2:4)
It is through instruments of peace – a ploughshare and a pruning hook (something used to trim grapevines and the like) – that God will work. These tools of agriculture are God’s instruments – not instruments of war like swords and spears.
This song (scroll to 1:47 in the video) is rapidly becoming my favorite Advent hymn. It was written in a time too, when the Vietnam War wore on people – making them question the world around them. But it, like the prophet Isaiah, offers a word of hope for those of us who feel “caught in the middle.”
Yet I believe beyond believing that life can spring from death, that growth can flower from our grieving, that we can catch our breath and turn transfixed by faith.
O Child of ecstasy and sorrows, O Prince of peace and pain, brighten today’s world by tomorrow’s, renew our lives again; Lord Jesus, come and reign.
Again, it is the announcment of peace that is God’s promise – a small child, one who will eventually lay down his life on a cross for humanity and from that place, life and growth – resurrection – will spring forth.
Ploughshares and pruning hooks; a tiny child and a cross: instruments of God’s will and action in the world. God’s instruments of peace for a weary and questioning world.
Instruments perhaps, that can shed a bit of light into the darkness of a world that wages war on itself, and offer us a bit of hope in the midst of it all.
Each Winter as the Year Grows Older – William Gay
Each winter as the year grows older
we each grow older, too.
The chill sets in a little colder;
the verities we knew seem shaken and untrue.
When race and class cry out for treason,
when sirens call for war,
they overshout the voice of reason
and scream til we ignore all we held dear before.
Yet I believe beyond beliving
that life can spring from death,
that growth can flower from our grieving,
that we can catch our breath and turn transfixed by faith.
So even as the sun is turning
to journey to the north,
the living flame, in secret burning,
can kindle on the earth and bring God’s love to birth.
O Child of ecstasy and sorrows,
O Prince of peace and pain,
brighten today’s world by tomorrow’s,
renew our lives again; Lord Jesus come and reign!