1 Advent Proper A1
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Isaiah 2:1-5 Sermon
December 1, 2013
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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
68 "The Advent Of Our King"
62 "Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel"
64 "Jesus Thy Church With Longing Eyes"
59 "Hail To The Lord's Anointed"
SWORDS, PLOWSHARES, SPEARS, AND PRUNING HOOKS
TEXT (vs. 4-5): “He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and 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. 5 O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.”
If you were to visit New York City to see the sights, I’m sure there would be quite a few places on your list, in fact more than you’d probably have time to actually see. When I visited New York City back in the 1970’s, I know that I just barely scratched the surface. There’s the Statue of Liberty, and the Empire State Building, and Times Square, and Rockefeller Plaza, and Radio City Music Hall…just so many places! And of course we would visit "Ground Zero," the site of the former twin towers of the World Trade Center, where the 9-11 tragedy literally rocked the nation and the world.
One place that is quite famous that I would imagine is on everybody’s “must see list” is the United Nations Headquarters. Even though this building complex sits on 18 acres in Manhattan’s East Side, it is considered an “International Zone,” which belongs to all member states. So it has its own police department, fire department, and even its own postal service. It’s really quite an impressive complex.
Out in front along First Avenue are all the flags of the 191 member states in alphabetical order, starting with Afghanistan and ending with Zimbabwe. There are other impressive things too, like the intricate Chinese Ivory carving, and the Foucault Pendulum. These items were given as gifts.
There are other gifts too, like the stained glass window designed by Marc Chagall, and donated by him and the UN staff members. It is 12 feet tall by 15 feet wide, and it depicts numerous symbols of peace and love.
Then there’s a mosaic, which is a re-creation of a painting done my American artist Norman Rockwell. It was presented to the UN by First Lady Nancy Reagan in 1985 on behalf of the people of the United States. It is entitled “The Golden Rule,” and it bears the inscription “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The painting puts forth the idea was that all people should be treated with dignity and respect, irrespective of their race, color, or creed.
And then there’s the Japanese Peace Bell. It was presented to the UN in June of 1954. The bell was cast from coins collected by adults and children from 60 different countries. It is rung twice a year—once on the Vernal Equinox (or the first day of Spring), and then on September 21st, which is the opening day of the assembly. In 2002, September 21st was named by the assembly as the “International Day of Peace.”
In 1994, there was a special ceremony commemorating the 40th anniversary of the bell. During that ceremony, UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali said: "Whenever it has sounded, this Japanese Peace Bell has sent a clear message. The message is addressed to all humanity. Peace is precious. It is not enough to yearn for peace. Peace requires work—long, hard, difficult work."
However, the one thing to which I wish to give specific recognition today is a large bronze statue that sits in the courtyard of the United Nations. The statue is of a rugged, muscular man. He is swinging a large hammer in one hand, and he is holding a huge sword in the other. The caption in the granite podium upon which the statue is placed, reads: “Let us beat swords into ploughshares.”
The statue is symbolic of, and I quote: “Man's desire to put an end to war and convert the means of destruction into creative tools for the benefit of all mankind.” It’s a noble thought, anyway.
The statue was sculpted by artist Evgeniy Vuchetich, and was presented to the United Nations as a gift from the Soviet Union in 1959. What makes this so ironic, is that even as Nikita Khrushchev was presenting this gift to the United Nations, he already had plans formulated to arm Cuba with weapons of mass destruction. Not even a year after presenting that statue, Khrushchev was in a meeting of the Security Council banging his shoe on the table; hardly a picture of Isaiah’s prophecy of peace.
Strife, war, anger, and conflict…the world is full of it. Ever since Adam and Eve got tossed out of the garden, and Cain slew Abel out of jealousy and anger, there has been conflict in the world. Since the fall into sin, there has never really been a time in the entire history of the world where there has been absolute peace and harmony. There are “wars and rumors of wars,” as Jesus so aptly puts it—and that’s not only in the days leading up to the end, but an historical fact as well.
I know we’re all just sick and tired of war. We just don’t want it, nor do we like it. "Man's inhumanity to man" is the phrase that is frequently used. War means injuries, death, and general destruction. People don’t give birth to children so they can get wounded or killed. People don’t build homes and businesses so they can be bombed and destroyed. People don’t hang their hopes and dreams for this life upon the threat of tragedy and the possibility of losing everything.
In the midst of all this, Isaiah speaks words of hope. The people of his day were pretty much like we are today—sick and tired of war and conflict. So God speaks some words of hope. In fact, God speaks pretty much the same words through both Isaiah and Micah. Isaiah records, “They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war any more.” There is light at the end of the tunnel for God’s people.
It’s at this point that I would like to bring up something that almost sounds conflicting to what Isaiah and Micah are saying. Listen to the words of the prophet Joel in chapter 3 verses 9-10: “Proclaim this among the nations: Prepare for war! Rouse the warriors! Let all the fighting men draw near and attack. Beat your ploughshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears. Let the weakling say, I am strong!”
Doesn’t this sound like a real conflict? On one hand, we have Isaiah and Micah writing, “They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks;” and on the other hand we have Joel writing, “Beat your ploughshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears.” Is God confused? Is he giving us two different sets of instructions?
Of course not. Joel is writing about a current situation, where Isaiah and Micah are giving a promise of things to come. To put this into perspective, let’s take a brief look at what was happening in Joel’s day.
The people of Judah, God’s people on earth had several formidable enemies; namely the Philistines to the southwest, and the Phoenicians to the northwest, as well as those in Tyre and Sidon. They had attacked and scattered God’s people, and were also guilty of doing some very unspeakable things to them.
If we look at the previous verses in Joel chapter 3, we hear the voice of God speaking. Verses 4-6 give an overview of what happened: “…Are you repaying me for something I have done? If you are paying me back, I will swiftly and speedily return on your own heads what you have done. For you took my silver and my gold and carried off my finest treasures to your temples. You sold the people of Judah and Jerusalem to the Greeks, that you might send them far from their homeland.”
These enemies of God would feel the sting of his judgment because of what they had done to his people. And so they had to prepare themselves for a war that they would surely lose. They would experience a taste of his wrath in the present age as well as for eternity. For the enemies of God, for the unbelievers, there would be no hope; only a fearful expectation of what would come.
Isaiah however gives words of comfort and hope to the believers. God’s people could look forward to a time when there would be peace and the instruments of war would be of no use at all. The reign of peace would come with the promised Messiah, who is Jesus Christ.
Just a few short chapters after Isaiah records the words of our text, he writes in Chapter 9 verse 6 some very familiar words we so often hear during this time of year: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
And there’s that magic word, “Peace.” That’s what all of this “beating swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks” symbolizes. And it points us in one direction, and one direction only, and that is to Jesus Christ.
If you remember, at the 40th anniversary of the Japanese Peace Bell, UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali said: "…Peace is precious. It is not enough to yearn for peace. Peace requires work—long, hard, difficult work."
Peace did require long, hard, and difficult work, but it is not anything we have done or could do. The job of bringing peace came through Jesus Christ and his work. He is the one who came to this earth in the most crude and humble of beginnings. He lived the perfect life. And then he died the death of a criminal. Isaiah later records in chapter 53 verse 5: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.”
The root of all of our world’s problems is sin, pure and simple. If we were to examine every battle, war, uprising, and insurrection to have ever occurred, we would find sin at the very core. Someone is greedy for power, someone wants more money, someone wants more territory, someone wants somebody else’s resources, or someone is just plain mean and sadistic. Whatever clothes one uses to dress it up, it’s still plain old sin just the same.
As we look at our own lives, sin is our problem too. That’s why we need Jesus in our lives. That’s why through God’s gift of faith we accept him as our Saviour. He brought peace into our lives by reconciling sinners like you and me to our heavenly Father.
On this earth, people will try to work for their own imperfect brand of peace. The United Nations has had numerous attempts and subsequent failures in this department. Nikita Khrushchev was ultimately deposed, but his gift depicting Isaiah’s prophecy of peace still stands in the UN Courtyard. It just goes to show that God’s Word continues to stand firm, regardless of what man tries to do to pervert or subvert it.
The Christian realizes that true and lasting peace can only come through faith in Jesus Christ. That is indeed peace which the world cannot give. Christ’s coming is something we can look forward to, because he will bring us everlasting peace.
The season of Advent is a reminder that we all need to be prepared for his coming. Whoever we are and whatever we’ve done is not what matters. What matters is our faith in Jesus Christ. Isaiah records in chapter 26 verses 3-4: “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee. Trust ye in the LORD for ever: for in the LORD JEHOVAH is everlasting strength.”
As we live our lives on this earth, may we always pray, as St. Francis of Assisi wrote, “Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.” And may we always remember the words of the shepherd boy hymn writer, Edmund Hamilton Sears: “Yet with the woes of sin and strife, the world hath suffered long; beneath the angel-strain have rolled two-thousand years of wrong. And man, at war with man, hears not the love song which they bring; O hush the noise, ye men of strife, and hear the angels sing.”