The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
2 In the days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.
3 Many peoples shall come and say,“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
4 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.
5 O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!
Isaiah waits. We wait. We wait for relief. In the midst of uncertainty, conflict, suffering and death, we imagine a world where kindness and mindfulness are the norm. We imagine respectful conversations on Facebook where restraint and regard are expected. But then there’s real life—where millennial and boomer become words of disrespect, where liberal and conservative are caricatured as socialist and fascist, and where the idolatry of self interest justifies exploitation, dirty tricks and self righteousness.
Isaiah promises ‘in the days to come’ God will be lifted up and sought. In days to come we will seek a new way to be with each other. In days to come, we will use the technology of war for peace. But we’ve been hoping for such things for thousands of years. We lament what doesn’t work but then we repeat it. We know lifting swords against our enemy will fail. But our first move when threatened is to defend and to retaliate. Very little actually changes. It happens globally and it happens personally.
It takes hard work to live a life where we no longer learn the ways of war. There is a huge disconnect between ideal and practice. Just because we have the right to do something does not mean it is the right thing to do. When we insist on our own way—even with something as simple as saying ‘Merry Christmas’—we fail to follow Christ. Every year there are arguments about the right to say ‘Merry Christmas’. But such arguments miss the point of Christ in Christmas.
Jesus did not spend his life insisting on his rights. We live in the hope is that the way Jesus lived will change the world. Living that hope means imitating him and making his spirit live in this world. Love does not insist on its own way. Of course we have the right— but why would any of us say anything that would knowingly offend—especially in the name of Christ.
It is easy to be kind to people we already like and who are like us. It is much harder to be Christian in a diverse world that does not understand us nor likes us. In ordinary relationships, we often discover that we’ve upset someone but instead of simply acknowledging what has happened, we’ll try to decide for someone else what is reasonable. It usually comes out as something like: ‘You’re overreacting.’ or ‘You took it the wrong way.’ or ‘You shouldn’t be upset because I didn’t know.’ We do not want to acknowledge that we do harm sometimes—whether we mean to or not. Offering an opinion—even a Merry Christmas— in a crowded room of strangers will almost certainly offend somebody. The Christian question is how do we engage when we realize it has happened. The hard part of being a Christian is the willingness to look for a third way.
The either/or of insisting on our ‘rights’ or disappearing into silence’ both lead to a dead end. Most of us in our families and friendships have held our tongue in the name of peace but then have resented others for not listening. And of course there are always those who will bulldoze anyone to make sure they are heard. Anything that can be done can be overdone. In our Faith in Real Life group one woman asked, “ Why does it have to be so hard, why can’t it be clearer? I’m good at following directions.” It would be a whole lot easier if we had clear guidelines— how long to be patient and when do speak out—but the only guidelines we have is that whatever we do, we do mindfully and in love.
We know all too well what doesn’t work and we hope for a better way. We hope that such a way is actually possible in the daily exchanges between nations and peoples. We may not see that hope realized but we live as if it will be. We will often fail but we keep our faces turned toward hope. There is another way. The Lord has promised it. As Psalms 103 puts it:
The Lord works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed. 7 He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel. 8 The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. 9 He will not always accuse, nor will he keep his anger forever. 10 He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. 11 For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us. 13 As a father has compassion for his children, so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him. 14 For he knows how we were made; he remembers that we are dust.
These are the instructions from the God of Jacob. This is what is means to live like we are loved. It takes more than slogans and sentimental good wishes. It requires choosing mindfulness and love in an adversarial world. It means pausing, listening, resisting our need to defend ourselves, assuming the good in others. It means accepting the flaws and limitations in ourselves and others. It means that we find our safety in God. It also means we will often be misunderstood, rejected and betrayed. But loving God and loving others never stops, is usually inconvenient and difficult but it is the only way that offers hope.
Believe that our hope is founded in the eternal. It is our call; it is our promise. “O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!”
Love in hope. Let it be so.