“The Vicious Cycle is Broken”
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. —Isaiah 2:4
It is written elsewhere that there will always be wars and rumors of wars. It is written in the American psyche that the big ones will always eat the little ones. It is written in the hearts of many hurting ones that their situation will always be abusive and exploitative. It is written and it is believed and it is lived, that the world is a hostile, destructive place. You must be on guard and maintain whatever advantage you can. It is written and recited like a mantra, world without end.
In the middle of that hopelessness, Advent issues a vision of another day, written by the poet, given to Israel midst the deathly cadence. We do not know when, but we know for sure. The poet knows for sure that this dying and killing is not forever, because another word has been spoken. Another decision has been made. A word has been given that shatters our conventions, which bursts open the prospect for life in a world of death. The poem lingers with dangerous power, even for us, even now.
Watch that vision, because it ends in a dramatic moment of transformation. The old city is full of blacksmiths who have so much work to do. Listen and you can hear the hammer on the anvil. The smiths are beating and pounding iron, reshaping it, beating swords into plowshares and spears into tools for orchards. They are decontaminating bombs and defusing the great weapons systems. The fear is dissipating. The hate is collapsing. The anxiety is lessening. The buildup of competitive threat is being reversed. The nations are returning to their proper vocation—care of the earth, love of creation, bounty for neighbor, enough for all, with newness, deep joy, hard work, all because the vicious cycles are ended and life becomes possible.
This vision sounds impossible. It sounded impossible the first time it was uttered; it has not become more realistic in the meantime. Advent, nonetheless, is a time for a new reality. It is not the poem but the old power arrangements of deathliness that are unrealistic. They are unrealistic among the nations and in our communities and churches and families. There is a new possibility now among us, rooted in God’s love and God’s suffering power. Power from God’s love breaks the vicious cycles. We have seen them broken in Jesus, and occasionally we have seen them broken in our own lives. It is promised that the cycles can be broken, disarmament will happen, and life can be different. It is promised and it is coming, in God’s good time.
God of love and suffering power, speak again your word of transformation in the midst of our weary world. We so easily capitulate to despair, to numb acceptance of deathly orders. Break the vicious cycles, and kindle in us once again a passion for the possible. Amen.
Throughout Advent we invite you to join us as we prayerfully prepare for Christ’s coming at Christmas with daily readings from Walter Brueggemann’s Devotions for Advent: Celebrating Abundance. They will be posted here daily with permission from the author, but we invite you to click the link to order your own copy.