They shall beat swords into plowshares, and spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, [nor] learn war anymore.
Isaiah 2.4 (NRSV)
I have a bottle topper that says: “Recycled from disarmed nuclear weapon systems.” Its opposite reads: “Make wine not war.” Whether you drink wine or not this image is powerful. This repurposed bronze bottle topper isn’t merely about wine; it’s about an alternative vision of reality. Things that make for violence can be transformed into things that make for peace.
Wine was a staple for early Christian fellowship meals. Bread and wine became symbols of a world made right. Jesus was the “bread from heaven” and the cup of salvation. These elements brought people together around an alternate vision: that God’s future reality (as in Isaiah) had begun in Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection.
As a result, people who were formerly opposed to each other (Jews and Greeks, etc.) were now living together in peace. They were, in tangible ways, enacting the reality of swords into plowshares. As such, they anticipated Christ’s second Advent, when all things will be set right: between humanity, the cosmos, and God.
This was the message central of Jesus’s birth: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace…” (Luke 2). The prophets looked forward to a coming King, one that would bring peace to the world. Jesus embodied–as a helpless babe and crucified rebel–what Isaiah dreamt, perhaps even more so.
The incarnated God, a God-made-flesh, would teach the way of peace and would enact it through the life and teachings of this Messiah. This first Advent inaugurated a vision that will come to its consummation in the second Advent. Imagine the explosive power of the parable of the Good Samaritan (Jews hated these folks) or the teaching to “love your enemies.” Jesus brought a deeper peace message than anyone expected!
Then, in crucifixion Jesus modeled realities Isaiah only imagined. He willingly died for the very people who put him to death. By choosing non-retaliation he modeled reconciliation, as he carried his cross. The cross (Rome’s ultimate weapon) was repurposed as a thing that made for peace!
And we who identify with this Messiah and his cross have the opportunity to be repurposed—just like an old sword or a Roman cross or an atomic bomb—into instruments of reconciliation. Cultural Christmas wars look like the “messiahs” that much of Israel wanted in the first century CE: a man on a war horse carrying a sword of vengeance. However, we got something better: a peacemaker.
This Christmas season, and throughout the year, our world longs for peacemakers—a repurposed you and me. This is the hope that we have as we live in the tension of the first and second Advent (coming) of Christ–God is “reconciling all things” (Col. 1.20), or perhaps we should say, God is ‘repurposing all things.’
Almighty God, repurpose us around Isaiah’s vision of a world made right, a world informed by Jesus’ mission of reconciliation. Transform us inwardly that we may exude peace outwardly. Amen.