Advent Devotion - Week One

Jim McDonaldIsaiah 2:1-5

When we look back into the world of ancient Israel. Into this world of ploughshares and pruning hooks. While It may be that in normal times, life was about plowing and planting and pruning and praying for good weather. However in times of crisis, things took a different shape.

In a time of war, authorities would gather up the ploughshares and pruning hooks to be used in battle. The iron would be melted down and made into swords and spears for fighting. It was a common practice in the ancient world to turn agricultural tools into weapons...this was part of the demands of conscription. Most were helpless in the face of such demands.

In the prophet Joel we hear reference to this practice, "Beat your ploughshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears." In Joel 3, instruments of life are being forged into instruments of death. The earth has been ravaged. Israel's heart has been broken. Its livelihood and hope for future sustenance are ripped away in front of its eyes. Ploughshares and pruning hooks are all drawn into the battle against foreign occupation. Life is turned to death.

But 200 years before Joel, Isaiah speaks into this devastation with words of hope and reversal, "God shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." In an agricultural context, the power of Isaiah's words become all the more striking. The instruments of battle and death are re-forged into instruments of life and sustenance and freedom. Hear these words as a farmer.

Hear these words as someone who has seen the ploughshare and pruning hook beat into weaponry. Isaiah's vision of swords being hammered into ploughshares and spears being refashioned into pruning hooks is a passage of profound hope. It is hope that God is making all things new...that God will come dwell among his people...that death will be no more, that mourning and crying and pain will be no more. Weapons of war are transformed back into instruments of our life and growth.

But I wonder how often do we resist this transformation? Because as much as God intends his gifts for our abundance, how often do we instead twist and re-forge those gifts into instruments of harm or destruction? Isaiah gives us hope for one kind of transformation, but we are often inclined, with Joel, the turn gifts back into weapons.

The tongue can build up and edify and encourage, or it can devour and decimate and tear down. Have you used your words as a weapon? Your tongue as a sword? How often do we twist the gift of God that is in us? If you are feeling your life is just not working right now, is it because the things in your life that were intended to be ploughshares and pruning hooks are instead functioning as swords and spears? Can it be that as much as we like to think we are yearning for life and abundance and flourishing that we have a very real tendency to deform or re-form the gifts we've been given?

What does it look like for you to live into the promise of Isaiah? What would it take for you to truly put down your weapons and to re-forge swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks? What needs to be softened and melded and molded in you to transform instruments of harm into instruments of hope? God invites us to bring our sharp edges and prickly personalities, our cutting words and penetrating judgments, as the master welder and metal smith, to reshape and reform our lives into tools of grace and joy and fruitfulness.

Happy Advent Week One!

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