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a sermon based on Isaiah 2:1-5
by Rev. Rick Thompson

I was shocked and outraged when I heard it several years ago.

I turned on the Today show one morning. I was stunned as Matt Lauer interviewed the operator of a controversial Internet website. What I saw and heard appalled me. It absolutely appalled me: in what was promoted as a “video documentary”, one could get on one’s computer, go to the website, and put oneself in Lee Harvey Oswald’s position in a deserted office building in Dallas on November 22, 1963. There one could site through a rifle scope, watch as a video image of President John F. Kennedy’s open car came into view, pull an imaginary trigger, and watch the President’s head explode. It was horrifying and appalling!

It reminded me again of the violence of our world and of our American culture. And I couldn’t help but be drawn to one of today’s scripture readings, as Isaiah voices God’s dream for a world at peace, unified in its worship of the one true God:

“…nations 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.”

In the vision, weapons of violence, destruction, and death are transformed into tools for farming, implements that give life. Could such a vision possibly become real?

And the examples of violence continue—not just video violence, but real-life violence with real-life blood and guts.

There is the ongoing, government-sponsored violence of warfare in Iraq, with mounting U.S. and allied casualties, mass deaths in suicide bombings, and deaths of Iraqi insurgents and their foreign supporters. And, beyond that, there is the damage that’s called “collateral” to make it sound less offensive than it really is: the thousands and thousands of dead Iraqi civilians whose only fault has been to be in the path of an invasion, occupation by a foreign power, and civil war.

“…nations shall beat their swords into plowshares,

and their spears into pruning hooks.”

There is our local memory of the Columbine High School tragedy some years ago, a more recent shooting at Platte Valley High, and the granddaddy of all the school shootings: the terrible tragedy that took 33 lives at Virginia Tech University not that long ago. And there is the daily horror many live with of domestic violence, and the astounding statistics about sexual violence in America. Everywhere—near and far—we witness and hear about violence and more violence.

And the prophet proclaimed,

“…nations shall beat their swords into plowshares,

and their spears into pruning hooks.”

And in response to the violence all around us, we turn to violent means to protect ourselves. My wife and I once saw this sign outside a local gun shop: “Come to our workshop tonight, get your concealed weapon permit tomorrow.” Do we really think we can make ourselves safe by advocating and practicing violence and arming ourselves to the teeth?

“…nations shall beat their swords into plowshares,

and their spears into pruning hooks.”

It’s a pretty dark world, isn’t it. Not only are the days getting shorter, but hatred, violence, savagery, and tragedy surround us, overwhelm us, and threaten to leave us in despair.

Is it still possible to dream with Isaiah? Is it still possible that God’s vision could be worth hoping in?

“…nations shall beat their swords into plowshares,

and their spears into pruning hooks.”

Is there any hope for this world? Is there any hope for us? When we discover, once again, that our annual consumer spending frenzy at Christmastime will not save us, will not make the world right, will there be any reason to keep on hoping?

Is there any hope for peace?

Is there any hope for light in a world so dark as ours?

If not, then why are we here this morning? Why does the church bother to observe Advent?

In Advent, we dare to peer into the darkness. We peer into the darkness of our world. We peer into the darkness of our lives. We do so, not because darkness is all there is, but because we must acknowledge the darkness in order to see that there is light.

Because there is Light! That’s our firm and fervent belief. There is Light. It is not just the artificial light of our seasonal decorations, although those lights can remind us of the true Light.

Yes, there is Light! That is our Advent message. That is our Advent hope. That is the church’s source of courage and faith in the midst of a dark world. That is why the ancient prophet, inspired by God, could proclaim…

“…nations shall beat their swords into plowshares,

and their spears into pruning hooks.”

And that is why we, the 21st century people of God, can look forward with hope and eager anticipation. We dare to hope in the coming of Light and a universal reign of peace and righteousness, justice and love.

We dare to hope. We dare to live in hope. We dare, as our prophet also put it, to “walk in the light!” Why? Because the Light of God—Jesus Christ—has come. The Light of God will come again to complete God’s work of restoring and healing the creation. The Light of God is, incredibly, here even now, in our midst, in this world, offering glimpses of God at work even under the cover of darkness.

Christ—the Light of God—has come, Christ is here even now, and Christ will come again. Christ, and Christ alone, is our only source of hope that this world—God’s world—can be peaceful and filled with light.

We know how Christ has battled the forces of darkness and evil and violence and death and triumphed over them. Let this African story remind us:

A large terrier was upset as he watched two other dogs fight each other. “Fighting makes no sense,” he said to himself. “I will make them stop.” Quickly, he ran between the two snarling animals, pushing the bigger of the two aside. To his great surprise, the other dog turned on him and began to attack him. Soon the large dog joined in until the peacemaker was battered and bruised.

Indeed, The Peacemaker was battered and bruised—and even crucified, killed on a cross. Countless peacemakers throughout history have been ridiculed, battered, and bruised—even killed: People like St. Francis of Assissi, and Mahatma Ghadhi, and Mother Teresa, and Dr. Martin Luther King. But they, like the Lord Jesus himself, have gone willingly into the darkness in the hope and confidence that, in God’s name and by God’s power, they could bring a little light and peace to a dark world.

They heard the prophet’s call, “Walk in the light!”

Today, we hear that call. As we begin another Advent season, we hear the prophet’s call, “Walk in the light!”

Will we do that? Will we walk in the light of God? Will we be sources of light and peacemakers in a dark and violent world?

Only when we live and trust in Christ.

There’s an old legend about a tribe that was always at war with other tribes. They murdered, raped, and pillaged constantly. They had no morals, no love, no compassion. They were so violent, they seemed to have a death wish.

An alarmed elder called together some wise ones from all the other tribes to try and save the violent tribe’s people from themselves. After much discussion, the elders decided to take the secret of peace and wholeness away from those who abused it and hide it from them.

But where should this secret be hidden? Some suggested it be buried deep in the earth. Others said to put it on top of the highest mountain. Still others suggested it be sunk deep in the ocean. Finally, the wise elder made this proposal: “Let us hide the secret within the people themselves,” he recommended. “People like this will never find wholeness and peace there.”

So what’s what they did, and that wise elder turned out to be right.

And, to this day, people have been feverishly pursuing wholeness and peace, searching for the secret. Relatively few can ever find its hiding place—already within themselves.

That is, after all, where Christ is—within us. By the power of God’s Spirit, Christ dwells in us. Our source of peace and light and wholeness is within us, and he’s also alive and at work in the world.

And so, the church proclaims again this year our Advent message: “There is Light! There is Hope! There is Peace! God has given it in Christ—who dwells among us!”

Today we hear that message once again. And today we hear the prophet’s call to be peacemakers and sources of light in a dark and violent world.

So let us pray that God will give us the faith and courage to rise up and follow the prophets’ call: “Children of God, walk in the Light!”

Yes, children of God, let us walk in the light!