We over at the Justin are following the Advent series “We Have Gifts to Open” and the first week is “The Gift of Vision,” based on Isaiah 2:1-5.
The youth all know this, but in case you don’t, before I worked here at FUMC Fort Worth, I spent a while living in Northern Thailand working for a human rights organization. When you work in crazy places, doing crazy things, you make crazy friends.
I have a friend named Dave who is a field coordinator for an aid agency that just started operating in an area of Northern Iraq called Kurdistan, near the city of Mosul, currently the front line of the effort to resist ISIS. He’s been in Kurdistan for some time now, usually sharing updates, and posts about people fleeing from ISIS-controlled cities, about the groups of refugees they take in as they liberate towns along the front line, about their needs, prayer requests, and most recently, about the attempts to retake Mosul. But his first posts from Kurdistan weren’t. His first updates were about a playground.
A playground? You moved from Thailand out to the middle of war-torn-desert-nowhere to build playgrounds? How could that possibly be helping? There is no school, no food, no hospital, the ground is still hot with buried IEDs. And your first move was to build a playground?
But as the playground was finished, his posts started to change. The area was filled with children, and because of that, with their families. Families that could now access the medical services Dave’s agency brought, share valuable information, and pick up needed relief supplies. Dave began to tell the stories of the community, of his life. The fight continued, the lives of those who lived in the area were punctuated by rockets, and sniper fire. Dave’s posts became about the need for more bandages, blankets, because they had so many people flooding to them looking for help.
In building a playground, his group had set themselves up as a sanctuary, a place where you could be safe, a place where you didn’t have to worry about it being ambushed or attacked. It was the bold assertion of the playground’s existence: that someday there would be peace, that someday it would be safe for children to play outside again in this place, that gave people the courage to go out from their homes and get help.
With every post I got it a little bit more, I understood the playground a little bit more. No, it wasn’t useful for the community in the state it is currently in. That was the point. The playground isn’t a reflection of what is. It’s a bold and colorful statement about what will be.
The Advent scripture for this week is Isaiah 2:1-5:
This is what Isaiah, Amoz’s son, saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
In the days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s house
will be the highest of the mountains.
It will be lifted above the hills;
peoples will stream to it.
Many nations will go and say,
“Come, let’s go up to the Lord’s mountain,
to the house of Jacob’s God
so that he may teach us his ways
and we may walk in God’s paths.”
Instruction will come from Zion;
the Lord’s word from Jerusalem.
God will judge between the nations,
and settle disputes of mighty nations.
Then they will beat their swords into iron plows
and their spears into pruning tools.
Nation will not take up sword against nation;
they will no longer learn how to make war.
Come, house of Jacob,
let’s walk by the Lord’s light.
It is the first week of Advent. Advent means a season of waiting. A season of hopeful, expectant, waiting for what God has promised to come. It is oriented around a belief that a Savior, a Messiah, is coming. That he will come and the world will be made new again.
In the time of the prophet Isaiah, the people were given the gift of a vision, a vision of a Messiah, a vision of peace. Note that they were not given a messiah yet, or peace yet. Instead they were given, for a brief moment, the gift of God’s perspective. God leaned down and whispered, “Wait until you see what’s coming.”
My friend Dave is an aid worker, and a medic. His team brought supplies, support and expertise, but they also brought vision. They brought a playground. It was that vision, that playground, which allowed them to give everything else.
This is not about only hope, powerful as it may be, it’s about sight. One of the greatest gifts given to us by God is the ability to see what God will do, to live into a truth that hasn’t happened yet. Dave and his team built a playground not because hope there will be peace one day, but because they know and have seen that there will be peace. That someday, somehow, some way, the war will end.
That “they will beat their swords into iron plows and their spears into pruning tools. Nation will not take up sword against nation; they will no longer learn how to make war.”
So Dave and his team will wait for these things to come true, but they will also act in such a way that they are confident they are already coming true.
The promise of Isaiah is of peace, but it is also of a savior. The Messiah was promised to the Israelites hundreds of years before he was born, but that vision, that glimpse of God’s perspective, that told them that a savior was coming for them, it helped sustain the Israelites for the hundreds of years in the meantime.
God is no fortune-teller, and does not give us a road map to the future. But sometimes, God grants us glimpses of the world as it should be. As it will be. God grants us these glimpses for two reasons: first, because it helps us endure the world as it already is, that playground brings joy to children who have not had enough of it. Secondly, because it helps us move. The vision of where we’re headed shows us what direction we need to take the first step in order to get there.
It is because we know that every nation will beat their swords into plowshares, that we go ahead and start beating our swords into plowshares. God grants us this gift of vision so that we will be comforted in our sorrow, but also pushed toward action. God grants us a vision of peace that will be so that we will create peace. It is not just a comfort, but a rallying cry.
So we will hold on to these promises of God through Isaiah, and we will thank God for the gift of vision as we begin to joyfully beat our swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. We will look to our world when it is full of struggle and pain, and say, “Come, house of Jacob, let us walk by the Lord’s light.”