Keawalai Congregational Church
United Church of Christ (USA)
Second Sunday of Advent
Sunday, December 5, 2010
It would seem that for most of my life we have been a country at war. After the Second World War ended two of my uncles worked at Kwajalein to establish a base from which a series of atomic tests were undertaken. Later one of my five uncles enlisted and served in the Korean war. None of them ever spoke about the wars.
I was a teenager in high school when the conflict in Viet Nam escalated into a war. One of my cousins served in that war and was among those who returned home alive. Then there was the invasion of Grenada and later Panama.
There were wars by proxy – that is we supplied the weapons and training – but not troops to countries throughout Central and South America and other parts of the world. More recently there was Desert Storm in Kuwait, a war that ended at the Kuwaiti-Iraqi border. The war in Iraq that began in 2003 ended with the withdrawal of our combat troops last year and now there is the war in Afghanistan.
I know there have been other wars in other generations. But these are the wars I have known. Although I have never served in combat I have always been mindful of the enormous cost of wars – not in terms of its financial cost but in human cost – of lives lost and of families broken by the violence of war.
Even as a child I wondered whether peace would ever come to our world. Despite all the lights and tinsel of the season I have always felt that Christmas was a time when we are called to envision a world at peace.
But over the years any vision of peace – of silent nights and holy nights – was shattered by the bombs and bullets of war. So it was that I came to believe at one point in my life if peace was ever to come to earth then we needed to do what we could to bring an end to all wars.
Our reading from The Book of the Prophet Isaiah provides us with a vision of a world without war. In many ways Isaiah’s vision seems unrealistic. The cynics among us will say it is wishful thinking.
The idea that the rule of human justice would pervade our world (Isaiah 11:1-5) was one thing but the notion that the natural, cosmic order itself would be transformed seemed ludicrous. How is it possible that “natural” enemies in the animal world will live together - a wolf side by side with a lamb? Or a leopard lying down with a goat? Or a calf and a lion together? Or a cow grazing with a bear?
It is a vision without violence among creatures, a vision that is assumed in The Book of Genesis. (Genesis 1:29-31) Yet whatever we may think about that vision, it is one in which human beings will live without fear. (Isaiah 11:6, 8)
The child to whom Isaiah refers is not any particular individual but to all children in general - or human beings at their most vulnerable. Verses 1-5 and verses 6-9 invite us to reflect on the relationship between justice and mercy and the ways in which inequity and injustice would be reversed by God’s way of peace.
In the end what we come to realize is the peace for which we yearn is not simply a peace made possible by the absence of war, but a peace made possible through the presence of wholeness. Shalom is the Hebrew word for the healthy wholeness of life that God desires for all creation. Shalom then is what we are called to envision.
Such a vision of peace then is not for one nation but for all nations. The vision or dream is not an American or a Russian one. It is not a Chinese one or an Iranian one.
It seems to me that we often go to war to protect “our” dreams and “our” visions for ourselves. We are enticed by the material world convinced that we are entitled to the natural resources of the world that make it possible for us to have money, wealth and power.
The lights and tinsel of this season compel many in the U.S. to insist that the American dream is about envisioning “a single-family house, with a white-picket fence, Mom and Dad, Dick and Jane.” (“The American Dream is not all about materialism,” Froma Harrop, The Maui News, Saturday, December 4, 2010, A7) When the resources that make that house and fence possible are threatened, we find ourselves being willing to go to war to “protect our way of life;” to protect our “American dream.”
Many hold a materialistic vision of the American dream. But the American dream is about something more. Froma Harrop, a syndicated columnist for the Providence Rhode Island Journal points out that the Pilgrims who immigrated in the early 17th century did so to avoid religious persecution. Others came to the U.S. for similar reasons – the Pennsylvania Dutch, Jews and others.
Many others were fleeing the trauma of war. They came - the Germans in the mid-19th century and the Vietnamese and Hmong from what was once known as South Vietnam and the Cambodians from the “killing fields” of Kampuchea in the late 20th century.
For millions of others, the American Dream meant freedom from starvation. In the 18th century the Irish fled the potato blight and the Swedes disastrous crop failures. Others like the Mennonites from Northern Europe and the Germans from Russia sought to preserve their cultures.
The dream for well-being, the vision for wholeness is one we share with others. Whether in this world or beyond, the good news from the prophet Isaiah is that God will one day bring about peace for the world and all its living creatures.
In the meantime may our dream and the dreams of others become a vision of peace and the desire for the wholeness of all creation. As we gather around this table to share in the eating of the bread and the drinking of the cup, we are mindful that the season of Advent is a time of waiting as we anticipate the birth once more of the One whose life was broken that we might be made whole. In him is our true shalom. In him there is peace.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
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