Isaiah 2:1-5 • Psalm 122 • Romans 13:11-14 • Matthew 24:36-44
The readings in December have a double purpose: to prepare to celebrate the baby Jesus while also considering the meaning of his coming again. Well, this is a tall order. Christmas itself, that flurry of gift-giving and parties, takes us far from the mystery of the word made flesh. And speculation about the second coming can quickly become a flight of fancy. Fortunately, the readings this week can bring us back to earth.
The Isaiah passage starts us off with a beautiful image: beating swords into plows. Isaiah is prophesizing a future where there are no more wars, no more need for swords. In that future, all the peoples of the earth have stopped killing each other! It is no longer one group pitted against another, but all tribes are working together to make sure that everyone is fed.
To do this, they begin practically, heating up the instruments of war and refining the metal to be used for a quite different purpose. Stopping here for just a moment, one can see how completely unnatural this is for human beings. Perhaps a group can find a way to trust each other and cooperate, within itself. Perhaps, if a family were on a desert island together, with no thought of danger from anywhere, and complete unity within the group, they might beat their swords into plows. Perhaps.
How do we learn to live as a peaceful, unified family while maintaining individuality? The other passages give us some hints. The psalm, for instance, focuses on Jerusalem as a place of peace. How do we make our own homes, our own work environments, our own congregations, even, such places!? In the Romans passage, Paul lays it out pretty clearly. Live in the light of day or, as it is almost time for New Year's resolutions, let's say have a little discipline, for starters. Avoid petty bickering. Note that this is different from being willing to disagree with another person around a thoughtful principle. Nothing is to be gained from a false peace. Stop with the envy, the constant comparing of oneself to another. All of these pieces are part of a community that has learned to live together while offering each person the freedom to become their full self.
Looking to the gospel, Jesus has just prophesied about difficult times to come when he offers one final piece of advice: Keep Awake! He reminds folks that in the time of Noah, folks were pretty happy up until the flood started. So stay ready, he is saying to us, for trouble is ahead.
It seems like the holidays always bring trouble, or tension, among families and also among friends. If one person can offer a little calmness, maybe some swords can be beaten into plows, or at least put down long enough to get to know one another as real people. In our coming together and beginning to know one another more deeply, perhaps Jesus is coming again.
Morning: Where might I put down a sword, or turn the energy towards another purpose?
Evening: When did I have a chance to know another more deeply today? To share what I'm thinking about?