We enter Advent with a stark reminder of what it means to be a people of light. Isaiah pulls no punches when he exhorts the people of Israel to “beat their swords into plowshares.” This is not the warm and fuzzy vision we have of Advent and the anticipatory birth of the ultimate peacemaker, Jesus Christ. We see the same dichotomy of structure when we compare the image of Christ the King (remember last week’s readings) to the image of a poor, defenseless baby Jesus. There is a change from the majestic color of white to purple for vesture as we cross that bridge from honor and glory to meekness and vulnerability. This is not an easy transition and it requires some thought and prayer.
But what does it really mean to beat those swords into plowshares? In researching this particular text I came across the website www.Swords -into-Plowshares.org. This organization helps to rehabilitate former soldiers back into civilian life employing the agronomy of sustainable agriculture. What a great example of making good from harsh reality. The technology that now uses ultrasound to detect illnesses, or to look at babies in utero was developed from the sonar used to detect the enemy during war.
Several weeks ago, many parishes may have recognized their veterans during the weekend Sunday Masses. These men and women were thanked for their contribution to the safe-keeping of our country. Many have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our country. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if, sometime in the future, the face of peacekeeping would be one of diplomacy and respect instead of armed conflict?
What does this have to do with church? When we think of weapons of war, we think of metal. But metal is also used for the holy vessels in our various liturgical celebrations. I am reminded of the iconic images of King Arthur, clothed in armor and chain mail toasting with a chalice-shaped cup filled with mead. More dichotomy as we observe the priest as he raises the chalice of the saving blood and the paten of the saving body of Christ in addition to the ciborium, the pyx, and the bells that are also used in the Eucharist. There is the processional cross as we begin Mass; the aspergill that sprinkles us with the waters of life; the thurible and sensor used to incense the coffin at funerals, and the monstrance for eucharistic adoration. Swords into plowshares.
The final image that brings it home is that of the tip of the spear that pierced Jesus’ heart at the crucifixion, which is now juxtaposed to the pointed tip at the bottom of bishop’s crosier (staff). Instead of an instrument of death, it now becomes a symbol of life as he shepherds the flock to new life in Christ. Let us take this Advent time to reflect on the true meaning of peace in our lives and in the world. Do we have swords that need to be turned into plowshares?
Wettstein is director of music and liturgy at Good Shepherd Parish, Chilton.