Sermon for the First Sunday in Advent
December 1, 2013, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Isaiah 2:1-5
Sermon Theme: “Swords into Plow Shares”
(Sources: Emphasis online Commentary by Ronald Love; Emphasis online Illustrations; Concordia Journal, Fall 2013, Vol. 39, No. 4; Anderson’s Preaching Workbook, Cycle A; original ideas; Houston Chronicle, 11/26/13)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
“’Tis the season to be jolly!” Most of us think we ought to be feeling that inside of us right now! We should be filled with joy and happiness as we anticipate family gatherings, gift sharing, brightly decorated Christmas trees, and neighborhood streets adorned with tinsel and lights! A happy time of the year it should be, and it is for many people.
But for some it is a time of great stress. According to the Life Stress Test, there are 43 life events which cause people much stress. Going to jail is one of those; moving to another city is another one. Going on a vacation trip is yet another. Christmas is on top of the list. Instead of being relaxed and feeling jolly, many folks stress out at Christmastime. Perhaps it’s because anticipating Christmas intensifies the other stresses already inside us.
Yet such stress is minor compared to what folks in the Philippines are currently experiencing after a major typhoon, or military personnel serving in a war zone endure, or the aftermath of a tornado in the Midwest. Indeed it is the sufferings of people locally and internationally that make Isaiah’s message in our sermon text so significant. It’s a twofold message; one, the importance of public worship and, two, the need for peace, that is, for turning swords into plowshares. Both are remedies for the stress of the times.
The Book of Isaiah opens with a scathing discourse on the disobedience of the Israelites. As the book progresses, Judah is conquered, Jerusalem is destroyed, and the inhabitants are sent into exile. This has happened before today’s text begins. The Babylonian exile is a time of great despair for the people of Israel. It is in this time of domestic crisis that King Ahaz sought advice and assurance from the prophet Isaiah. And so, with this desperate plea from the king came Isaiah’s promise of restoration, not only for Israel, but for the entire world. And that’s the point where our sermon text begins.
Again, Isaiah’s twofold message is the importance of public worship and the need for peace. We’ll look at each of these.
Verse three invites those who hear Isaiah’s message to go up to the mountain of the Lord, the house of the God of Jacob.
You see, the Israelites were well accustomed to the mountain of the Lord; it was the place where Yahweh met with his people. Moses received the Commandments on Mount Sinai; the sacrifice with Abraham and Isaac occurred on Mount Moriah, and the Temple was on the Mount in Jerusalem. These things did not occur in MacDonald’s or at Starbuck’s. Or in the swamps of Louisiana.
So, in Christ, the church will be lifted up and exalted as the mountain of the Lord, that is, the place of the Lord’s dwelling with His people. The nations will stream to the mountain of the Lord and dwell in Christ. This is a quite a reversal indeed, a great restoration, as water does not flow up hill, but, because of Christ, the nations stream upward toward the Church. Our text says, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob.” Why? So that “he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths,” and live in peace.
In this modern era of individualistic spirituality, and with churches as huge entertainment centers filled with feel-good prosperity gospel preachers, we need to hear and heed this reminder to engage in public worship in God’s House, where God’s presence is found. God’s presence is found in the Liturgy, in the hymns, in the reading of the Word, in the sermon, and in the Sacrament of the Altar. If God wanted us to find restoration and salvation outside of the church, He wouldn’t have put such an emphasis on the Mountain of the Lord and the House of the Lord.
The second part of the message is the need for peace. When the Prince of Peace comes, swords will be beaten into plowshares.
In front of the United Nations building in New York City, there is a sculpture of a muscular man beating a sword into a plow point, with an inscription below it from Isaiah’s text, “and they shall beat their swords into plowshares.”
The United Nations is a secular embodiment of the vision God gave to Isaiah. Both the United Nations and the League of Nations before it, were formed with high hopes that they would provide a forum for nations to work out their differences in a rational manner and usher in the great day of world peace.
While the vision of Isaiah and of the framers of the United Nations is similar, the source of the vision is radically different. Those who put their faith in the United Nations as the means to the peaceable kingdom are in reality placing their trust in human rationality and good will. For Isaiah and for people of faith, the peaceable kingdom is an act of God which will be brought into existence in God’s good time, and in the manner God prescribes. God can and does often use human beings to fulfill His plans.
A few years ago a class of Marshall Scholars found a way to “hammer swords into plows and spears into pruning knives,” in that they turned guns into books. After graduating from Oxford, these scholars set their sites on Rwanda and helped raise more than one million dollars to build the country’s first and only library. The library was opened about a decade after that country’s catastrophic genocide.
God’s prophet Isaiah prophesied revival, restoration and peace to us and the rest of the world as well as to the Israelites; the Lord’s prophesies do not fail.
After more than three decades of hostility, last weekend ended with hopeful signs that a nuclear hostility deal had been made between the United States and Iran. Not too many days after that, a conference was planned for January to try to bring an end to the war in Syria. Now these are man-made plans, to be implemented by man-led negotiations. Unless God has His hand in these efforts, swords will not be beaten into plowshares.
The same thing happened when Christ converted the cross from an ugly instrument of execution into the foremost sign of forgiveness, reconciliation and salvation. God used even the evil men who crucified Jesus to fulfill the plan the prophets prophesied, so that through the power of the cross, God could transform enemies into friends, sinners into saints.
It’s impossible to go anywhere, — to the grocery store, to the drug store to get a prescription filled, to the Post Office, to the prayer chain newsletter, and not hear or read about the illnesses, surgeries, family problems, disappointments, difficult decisions, trials and tribulations of our friends, relatives, and acquaintances. And so when the many demands of the Advent/Christmas season come upon us and are added to our already stressed-out state-of-being, they can lead to a delirium of despair. That’s not good, and that’s not what God wants for His people.
Those of us who come to public worship in God’s House are calmed and restored with the power of the Liturgy, the power of the great Christian hymns, the power of the Word, as it is both read and preached, and the power of the Holy Sacrament in which we receive the Body and Blood of Christ. As our text says, “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.” Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.