“...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.”
Sounds like a dream. And it is: God’s dream—for all of Creation and all of humanity. But to our ears, it sounds like a “wish” dream—like an impossibility, an improbability. This God vision Isaiah shares with us today seems so far off because the human ego would never choose it; the human ego never does.
This is why we are called to put our “Christ” on—to let the holy, the divine, be born within us. This is the revolution Jesus initiates and instigates into the world—the overthrow of our self-centered hearts—a complete regime change within individual hearts that turns the world as we know it upside down. But actually right-side up.
Beloved: how do we get there from here?
At the first Advent, Jesus as Love-in-the-Flesh is born into the world. So that the world might know that living this Way of Love as a human being is possible. So that we may begin to believe that this is Our Way.
Thus begins the Second Advent: Humans learning how to live as humans are meant to live: with love at our center. What Love asks of us is that we choose this Way for ourselves. We cannot control or demand this from anyone else. We can ONLY choose it for ourselves. It is so much more than attending a worship service each week or joining a committee that does the church work or earning a badge for attending the most Sunday school classes. Those are all good things—but only when they are practiced in order to seek a deeper and more meaningful purpose. These practices, these habits of worship, study, prayer and gathering—we are called to them all so that we can tend to our interior lives—these practices are markers and pitstops on a path to a deeper interior life. The revolution within us that unleashes revolutionary love into the world.
Each year, the Church gives us this Advent season to do the work of cultivating, of fertilizing, of cleaning up and making room so that Love can take root within. Or, if we have been around for a few seasons, for Love to be pruned and strengthened, for the roots to sink deeper and spread wider all so that our lives can more consistently, more intentionally, and more purposefully harvest and midwife Love out into the world: the third Advent. That time when instruments of warfare and destruction will be turned into tools of growth, nourishment and life.
And the purpose? Why do this? Why live differently? Why bother? After all, we know we will probably not live to see those swords turned into plowshares and those spears become pruning hooks. But Peace is still within our reach—and if Jesus is any clue—we can actually have Peace 24/7. Because Peace isn’t primarily when there is war no more (although I still believe that is the ultimate desire of God). But even in the midst of warfare: external and internal; even in the midst of loss, disease, and struggle, we can have Peace. We can give peace.
Because Peace means having the ability to remain whole, to remain centered in the middle of whatever life brings. That the chaos and pain of life can not completely undo us. Peace means we know who we are and whose we and we trust that we are held in a larger narrative which exists beyond the close narrative of our everyday lives, the “in-our-face” narrative of social media and politics and human cruelty. Peace believes there is a goodness, a wholeness, a force of Love that exists beyond this limited, earthly narrative, that there is a Power to restore us outside of this time continuum, this earthly life, this narrow band of existence that begins with our birth and ends with our death.
With every fiber of my being, I trust in this truth of another narrative beyond the dash between my birth and death. I believe in a forever reality that sometimes shimmers for me beyond the veil. It shimmers whenever I see Love exchanged; compassion cultivated; when kindness overcomes cruelty and we live as good neighbors. I think this may be the truth that Jesus tried to breathe into those gathered disciples who were witnessing his life beyond death. This “Peace be with you” Jesus extends three times to those scared witless friends who were coming to realize just who this King, this Messiah, really is. And as they were just beginning to realize what they must let go of in order to truly gain their lives.
I think this is why Christmas–and holy days like it: Hanukkah in Judaism, Rohatsu in Buddhism, Winter Solstice for Pagans—why these holy days are so loved, so treasured. Even by those who do not believe in the existence of a God. Because in our DNA—in the marrow of our bones—we do believe in this better reality that shimmers just beyond our touch. We do believe we know better, that we can do better, that we can be better.
So, Beloved, let us lean into the conversion of our hearts. Let’s do the work of Advent—cleaning up and making room in our interior lives for Love to move in as our constant companion. So that as we approach our neighbor, like our Buddhist siblings, we can say, “Namaste: The divine in me bows to the divine in you.” Maybe when we share the Peace, we should say: The Christ in me greets the Christ in You. Or even better (and more challenging): The Christ in me sees the Christ in You. Or The Christ in me loves the Christ in You. For this, Beloved, this turn, this labor for Love to become our heart and well-spring—this is how we, as humanity, can actually move beyond the human ego. This is how we can choose the better Way. How we live a better world into being.
Happy New Year, Beloved. It is time to begin again. Stay alert. Love is always longing to be born.
Jane Johnson is the pastor and priest of the Beloved Community of Intercession Episcopal and Redeemer Lutheran.