Updated: Dec 9, 2019
Texts for reflection:
Opening question: Why does violence persist?
Isaiah is called to prophecy in the power transition upon the death of King Uzziah of Judah (742 BCE) to the kingship of Jotham (742-735 BCE). Given Isaiah’s prophetic vision in chapter 2, we can infer that warfare was a chronic reality, and that the end of warfare must have seemed such an impossible future. And yet, such was his vision.
Likewise, Jesus is talking throughout chapter 24 of the chronic misery of the political world with its nations rising against nations, kingdoms against kingdoms, famines, and earthquakes throughout the land. The chronic warfare of Isaiah’s time 7 centuries before Christ is a continued reality in Jesus’ day, and given his premonition, we can infer that such tribulations will indeed continue to occur. So why does collective violence prove to be so pernicious, and what hope does the birth of Christ bring to this seemingly hopeless world?
The answer, I believe, comes in the present moment, or it doesn’t come at all. Jesus alludes to this clearly when he says, “Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come” (v. 42). Paul says it as well: “And do this [practice neighbor love] because you know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand” (vv. 11-12a).
We need every tool at our disposal to turn the tools of war into the tools of peace. Isaiah speaks to this transformation from swords to ploughshares, from spears to pruning hooks. Our most common lethal weapon is the personal gun. A creative artist, Pedro Reyes from Culiacán, Mexico, has created a living artistic expression of Isaiah’s vision: he has melted down 1,527 guns, and with them he has made 1,527 shovel heads. With these shovel heads he has planted 1,527 trees (note 1). Culiacán is the city with the world’s highest death toll due to gun violence, and art is one of the most powerful, transformative tools for peace in this world, one of the holiest interruptions.
Another tool we have for peace is the actual interruption of the violence cycle through silence and stillness. If we do not have practices of silence and stillness in our lives, we will almost undoubtedly perpetuate cycles of violence through our reactions to the world around us. The violence that Isaiah saw, the violence Jesus saw, and the violence that we see will continue, until we learn to stop and be still.
Paul says it’s time to wake our asses up! We know what time it is. This is why we pause during the confession before receiving God’s forgiveness. If we move too quickly from confession to forgiveness, we risk the tragedy of living one more day as the person we were yesterday. God loves us just the way we are. And God loves us too much to let us stay here.
We don’t need to look too far around us to see the chaos of the present age. But if all we see is chaos, then we need to pause and be still. When we are quiet and still, we see the difference between what happens in the world and our response to it. When we are caught in cycles of reaction, we do not see the difference between what happens and our own response to it. One event just flows into the next, and the violence goes from Isaiah’s time to Jesus’ time to our own time. When will it end? It will end when we choose. Violence will end when we are tired of it enough to stop our lives and be still, when we refuse to continue the cycle of violence by simply reacting to what happens. In other words, it is time to confess our sins in silence and in stillness, not because we need to feel worse about ourselves, but because we need space and time to remember the difference between our way of being in this world and God’s own way.
So let’s practice this sacred pause together, this sacred practice of waking up, this Holy Interruption. Advent is, after all, a season for this Holy Interruption, the Interruption called Jesus. Let us sit still and pay attention to the breath. This breath, in and out, contains the animating power of the Holy Spirit, giving us life with each passing moment. Breathe in this life that is utterly foreign to violence. Breathe in this life that wakes us from slumber, that interrupts perennial cycles of violence, that makes all things possible. Breathe in this life that is the birth of Christ in our own heart. When your mind drifts away (as it will), say to yourself what your thought is, and then gently return your attention to the breath, in and out. This is it, my friend. We know what time it is, the time for us to wake from sleep.
1, Amanda Froelich, “Mexican artist melts 1,527 guns, makes shovels to plant trees,” pocho.com. http://www.pocho.com/chilango-artist-melts-1527-guns-makes-shovels-to-plant-trees/?fbclid=IwAR0HOASU423v6Aj39ao38XrLipvtRoV-FtKY8LsD5V33rCPMEz3ZkAhWN4E via Working Preacher, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4315, accessed 12/4/19 at 12:57 PM.