Is it better to preach the promise of peace or to proclaim the reality of its long-standing absence?
Old Testament Reading: Isaiah 2:1-5
For Sunday, Nov. 28, 2010: Year C – Advent 1
In contrast to the Gospel reading for Advent 1, the Old Testament text is more universal and less threatening. It is a vision of the end of days that promises peace. Actually it more than makes promises — it reports peace as a fact.
Swords to Plowshares
It is a report about how the Lord will establish the Lord’s house in a new holy place that is neither theirs nor theirs − all will be invited. It’s not about me, my house, or how I better be ready for the sneak attack or else. The Lord will arbitrate any differences and all will respond by turning instruments of war to implements of cultivation. Swords to plowshares.
I don’t have a sword and I don’t have a plowshare. What would be a contemporary equivalent? They shall transform their MQ-9 Reaper Drones into 500 Mega Watt Solar Arrays. It lacks the poetry of swords and plowshares. It is the text’s poetic nature that makes it feel more universal and less immediate than the Gospel text.
Matthew’s text feels like it might take place tomorrow. Yeah, a sneak attack. That immediacy that causes me to question its meaning. It seems that the Gospel writer is trying to alert his reader to a perilous event that is impending, which drives me to some historical-critical place.
And then I think, given that these texts are veiled allusions to something that was going to/or did happened thousands of years ago. But how do I feel about appropriating Isaiah as an Advent text, as a reference to the completion of time?
It feels so much less problematic to say, one day God will bring peace to everyone and the lion will lie down with the lamb. It’s a nice idea that no one expects to actually happen, not, like, in any real way. Right?
The Hardest Question
So is it better to treat the promise of a coming peace as a feel-good message that we can all rally around, endorse, mention in a prayer and raise a glass to, or to proclaim along with our hope the reality of its long-standing absence?
Russell Rathbun is a preacher at House of Mercy in St. Paul, Minnesota, the author of Midrash on the Juanitos (Cathedral Hill Press, 2010) and the curator of The Hardest Question.