In April 2002, an article about the situation in Afghanistan appeared in Time magazine. The author of that article wrote that…
One [arms] dealer tried to interest a Time reporter in a Kalashnikov for the bargain price of $200, with 100 rounds thrown in “to close the sale.” The man, who identified himself only as Abdul, said he wouldn’t need his weapons anymore. “Peace has come to Afghanistan,” he says. “The King is coming home, and people are sick of fighting.”
Fifteen years later, has peace come to Afghanistan? It is very doubtful.
The need for peace in Afghanistan is probably just as great today as it was fifteen years ago. Furthermore, though our country is at least a little more stable, the need for inner, spiritual peace is just as great among Americans as among any other group of people in the world.
Peace, Hope, Joy, and Love are the four traditional themes of Advent that the Church of Jesus Christ has celebrated and preached for hundreds of years. We are going to consider these four themes from the prophet Isaiah over the next four Sundays. Today, we focus on peace from Isaiah 2:1-5. Allow me to read again the words we heard earlier in our service, this time, in context. Listen for God’s Word to you….
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 he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his 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!
I invite you to focus with me on one phrase from this passage: “Swords into Plowshares”.
Notice that the beating of the swords into plowshares, the conversion of weaponry into “livingry”, follows the judgment. From a Christian perspective, we believe that real and everlasting peace will only come to this tired and sorry world of ours only when Christ returns for the final judgment to establish his everlasting kingdom on a renewed earth. This text is an Advent text in that it looks forward to the Second Coming of Christ, as well as, from Isaiah’s perspective, the first coming.
As we are all, no doubt, aware, there is a problem with the kind of peace this world achieves. It always passes.
One of the most striking illustrations of this comes from the First World War. One cold, moonlit, Christmas Eve, the soldiers on both sides of the conflict huddled in the trenches. Because of the annual Christmas truce, the fighting had stopped. Suddenly, from the British trenches, a loud, sweet tenor voice began to sing “The Lord Is My Shepherd,” and the sound floated up into the clear, moonlit air.
Then from the German trenches, a rich baritone voice tuned in, singing the same song in German. For a few moments, everyone in both trenches concentrated on the sound of these two invisible singers and the beautiful music and the harmony. The British soldier and the German soldier sang praise to the Lord who was their shepherd. The singing stopped, and the sound slowly died away.
All the soldiers, on both sides, huddled in the bottom of their respective trenches, trying to keep warm until Christmas Day dawned. Then, early on Christmas morning, some of the British soldiers climbed out of their trenches into No Man’s Land, carrying a football (what we Americans would call a soccer ball). These English soldiers started kicking around the football, in a pickup game in No Man’s Land, between the trenches.
Then some of the German soldiers climbed out of their trench, and England played Germany at football in No Man’s Land, on Christmas Day, in the middle of the battlefield in France in the First World War. England won the game, by the way.
Then, the next morning, the carnage began again, with machine guns and bayonet fighting. Everything was back to “normal”.
That is the way of this world. However, the vision of Isaiah tells us that one day the song about the Lord who is our Shepherd, and the game, and the peace will be real and lasting.
Does that mean we do not need to work for peace now, that we can just wait for the Lord to bring it about in his own good timing? No, I do not believe so. I believe the Lord will bring about that final, everlasting peace through us. It is something we need to begin working toward even now in this war-torn world of ours.
That is why Isaiah adds, “O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.”
As N. T. Wright has written,
Isaiah’s promise of universal peace must therefore be read, like Paul’s call to personal holiness, as our present agenda. We must neither look helplessly at a dark and sleeping world, nor think complacently that we, the church, are all right as we are. We must wake people up to the fact that the sun is already shining, and that the judge of the nations is at the door, longing to see his justice and peace enfold the world in a single embrace.
The great nineteenth century London preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, has some wonderful commentary on this verse. He says this about the light of the Lord….
No other light is comparable to it…. No other walking is so safe, so gladsome…. In this light, we find certainty for the mind…. In this light, we find rest for the conscience…. In this light, we find direction for the judgment…. In this light, we find delight for the soul…. In this light, we find communion for the heart.
Then Spurgeon tells this lovely story….
A weary and discouraged woman, after struggling all day with contrary winds and tides, came to her home, and flinging herself into a chair, said: “Everything looks dark, dark.”
“Why don’t you turn your face to the light, aunty dear?” said a little niece who was standing near.
The words were a message from on high, and the weary eyes were turned toward him who is the Light and the Life of men, and in whose light alone we see light.
 Stuart Briscoe, “Christmas 365 Days a Year,” Preaching Today, Tape No. 135.
 N. T. Wright, Twelve Months of Sundays: Reflections on Bible Readings, Year A, London: SPCK, 2001, p. 3.