The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that God may teach us God’s ways and that we may walk in God’s paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; 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 any more. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!
This passage reminds me of the standard advice given to fiction writers: show, don’t tell. It means don’t tell the reader that Agnes is angry. Show that she is angry by the way her spine straightens, her nostrils flare, her hands clench, or her voice shakes. Don’t just tell the reader that Andrew is sad and missing his wife. Show him looking at her empty chair, or poking the frozen dinner form of meatloaf so unlike his wife’s. Show, don’t tell.
I was reminded of this advice because of the first line of the passage from Isaiah 2: This is “the word that Isaiah saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.” How do you see a word? Other than in print, and that’s not what Isaiah means. Usually the Bible says “The word of the Lord came to s-and-so, saying…” But Isaiah sees a word, which means that God’s word came in the form of a vision, a vision of what could be.
We are in only the 2nd chapter of Isaiah, but the 1st chapter has been pretty clear about the trouble the people are experiencing. The country lies desolate; the cities are burning; and foreign forces are devouring the land. But Isaiah’s criticism is not for the invaders, but for the people of Judah. Isaiah says that they are a sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity. And God says “I’ve had enough of your meaningless sacrifices. You’re supposed to be seeking justice, rescuing the oppressed, defending the orphan, and pleading for the widow. Instead you come to me with blood on your hands and I’m sick of your excuses.”
But chapter 2 has a very different tone, with a vision of a very different world. In this world all people will be drawn to God, to learn of God’s ways. God will bring justice between the nations, and justice will bring peace. So they will have no need for weapons. They will not need to study the tactics of war. The sword will no longer be used to pierce flesh but will become the cutting blade of a plow. And the spear will no longer slice people but prune bushes to help them yield more fruit.
The vision might have stopped with the destruction of the weapons, “shattered to bits, robbed of the power to destroy. But it doesn’t…. It is a vison of transformed and transforming capacity. Like swords and spears, plowshares and pruning hooks are tools made with human craft from the minerals of the earth and the growth of trees. The ingenuity and skill that devised weapons of war also devised tools and technologies to cultivate rocky soil, to build terraces, and coax forth from the land the nourishment of olive, fig, grain, and grape. Isaiah sees in this same creativity the capacity to transform the machinery of warfare into a technology whose sole purpose is to sustain the life of families in God’s good land.” This was the word of God that Isaiah saw: a vision of a world at peace, a world with no need for weapons, no need for war. What a wonderful vision.
The problem, of course, is that it hasn’t come true. We continue to make weapons at mind-boggling rates. In the U.S. there are now more guns than people. “There are more than 393 million civilian-owned firearms in the United States, or enough for every man, woman and child to own one and still have 67 million guns left over.” Yet 41 million Americans face hunger on a regular basis. We need some swords turned into plowshares.
What are we to make of Isaiah’s vision, given the realities we face? Will it ever come true, here on earth? Will it only be true in some after life? Was it only a dream? How are we to believe this promise that all people will come to God, when we see the declining role of the church in America? How are we to believe this promise that God will bring justice to the nations, when we don’t even have justice within our own cities? How are we to believe that God will turn swords into plowshares, when we can’t stop the battleground of our own family dinner table? Isaiah’s vision? To use the slang insult from my youth: dream on!
The season of Advent is a season of waiting—waiting for the coming of the Christ Child yet again into our world. But idle waiting is not what God wants of us. We don’t just sit around waiting for a reason to hope. We can’t just say “Dream on!” to Isaiah, and then sit back and wait. That IS the point. The point is to dream on. God’s promised day of peace will not happen if we just sit and wait for it. God’s promised day can’t wait because hope can’t wait.
What we are called to do, as people of faith, is to work for God and with God to create the world that this vision foretells. Can you see it? Can you see the word of the Lord?
Can you see a world where men share their power?
where they are free to express their emotions without ridicule?
Can you see a world where women are safe?
where they are free to explore their potential without limit?
Can you see a world where transgender and non-binary people
can be their true, authentic selves without risk?
Can you see a world where Christians, Jews, and Muslims walk side by side,
and protect one another’s right to worship?
Can you see a world where black mothers and fathers do not have to warn
their black children about racism and bigotry?
Can you see a world where six-year-old children do not have active shooter drills
and no one goes hungry and everyone gets the help they need to live?
Can you see this world?
Prophets are those with vision, including the vision for transformation. Back in 2007, as part of a campaign to curb shootings, a city in Mexico collected guns to get them off the streets. They collected 1,527 guns. Artist Pedro Reyes took those 1,527 guns and melted them down and turned them in 1,527 shovels. Those 1,527 shovels planted 1,527 trees. Now Reyes is working on a new project. “A few years ago, a government agency in Mexico gave Reyes 6,700 guns that had been confiscated from criminal gangs and rendered inoperable. Since then, he’s been turning them into musical instruments . . . electric guitars, violins, flutes and percussion instruments. From the horror of gang violence comes music.
God’s Promised Day isn’t here yet. We are not at peace. But we are not without hope. If there is anything the Christmas story teaches us, it’s hope.
Remember how Isaiah saw the word of the Lord? The Gospel of John knows all about that Word.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
In him was life, and the life was the light of all people. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
Isaiah’s vision was the word of God. Jesus was the word of God. And maybe we can be—or at least bring—the word of God, too. A word of hope. The hope for which our world waits.
As we prepare our hearts for communion, I want to share with you a poem, also called “God’s Promised Day Can’t Wait.”
Someone once told me that hope was naive—
A foolish game that children play
When they pray that summer won’t end,
And bedtime won’t come.
Someone once told me that hope was naive as they
Cradled pessimism in their lap like a sleeping cat,
Stroking their ego while they stoked a fire within me.
Unfortunately for them, I’m allergic to cats.
And unfortunately for them, those who deny hope
Will never know vulnerability;
For hope requires us to believe in a better day—
Even when this one is falling apart.
Hope looks the 24-hour news cycle in the face,
Hope looks our broken relationships in the face,
Hope looks our low self-esteem in the face,
And declares at low tide that the water will return.
Hope is exhaling, trusting that your body will inhale again.
Hope is watching the sunset and setting an alarm.
Hope is planting seeds in the winter, assuming summer will come.
I never said it would be easy.
The ground is frozen, you are thirsty, and the night is long.
But I will say this—
I have found hope to be the rhythm of love and the fiber of faith;
For to hope is to believe in God’s ability to bring about a better day,
And like a child with an Advent calendar,
I will always be counting down the days.
So to those who cradle pessimism and fear,
You can find me outside—with the kids—wishing on stars,
Praying to the God of today
That tomorrow will be just as beautiful.
Set your alarm.
We’d like for you to join us.
The sunrise won’t wait.
  Portier-Young, Anathea. “Commentary on Isaiah 2:1-5” workingpreacher.org