An Advent Journey: Being Re-gifted with Peace and Bread
A meditation to use for the first Sunday in Advent.
“Peace like bread must be made daily," Bishop Bromley Oxnam.
The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. In 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. 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 God may teach us God’s ways and that we may walk in God’s paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. God 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. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord! Isaiah 2: 1-5
Peace and bread
In today’s lectionary reading, Prophet Isaiah sees a vision. He sees the transformation of one set of tools into a new set of equipments, tools of war-making instruments made into farming tools. God instructs that war-making tools and labor should be transformed into food-producing tools and labor.
Strangely enough, another prophet also sees a similar vision. A vision of retooling for peace. Prophet Micah says God will “judge between many peoples, and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away; 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,” Micah 4:3.
Morphed into one vision, these two prophets’ visions are an incremental call to individuals to disarm our hearts, first by going “up to the mountain of the Lord ... that God may teach us God’s ways and that we may walk in God’s paths,” and then nations shape their tools and policies to combat systems that perpetuate food insecurity, hunger, death and malnutrition. Let’s transform:
- Swords into plowshares;
- Spears into pruning hooks;
- Seeding hostility to seeding and harvesting peace;
- A culture of violence into a culture of peace; and
- War-making into bread-making.
God asks the faith community to take the lead in building communities of peace and nourishment. It is an invitation to celebrate harvest, the blessing of God in the provision of food, and in this process be care-takers of the earth.
Advent is making room for peace and investing in peace.
Women, peace and bread
Professor Mary Getui of Kenyatta University, Nairobi, Kenya, says that since women are the primary nurturers of life, producers and servers of food in the African context, they also initiate peace negotiations and reconciliation in armed conflicts in the African context. It is because women and children are more and more often the victims of modern armed conflicts, experiencing rape, sexual slavery, abduction and increasing casualty rates, that they feel the urgency for peace and the routines of a normal life. It is they who often experience rape, sexual slavery and abduction in armed conflicts.
Nurturing life, on the other hand, involves setting up hearths, making food and sharing food. Food-making and peace-making seem to be so closely related.
Not so close, if we are not daily watchful.
Slavery, forced-labor and trafficking can take place even in peace times. What about making swords into plowshares? Is it a fanciful, indulgent thought during the Christmas Season? There is a jolting verse, a competing text that speaks to this sentiment.
Arrested peace and stale bread
Peace does not descend magically like snow flakes on a newly converted farm of plowshares and pruning hooks. Peace must be made daily like bread.
Prophet Joel says, “Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears; let the weakling say, ‘I am a warrior,’” Joel 3:10. It is an ironic reversal of today’s lectionary reading from Isaiah.
The seeming peace that ensues in the aftermath of wars can belie lingering violence. In those days, the defeated were sold as slaves to the traders and brokers who followed the victorious army. Lots were cast and even children were sold by the army of the conquerors. Joel calls for a campaign against child slavery, human trafficking and human cargo smuggled across the borders.
Today, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime describes these acts as the world’s fastest growing criminal enterprise. Human Rights Watch says half of the estimated 200 million migrants worldwide are women and they often experience human rights violations. Visit their website: hrw.org. Trafficking occurs within this large group of migrants seeking bread for themselves and their families.
Prophet Joel’s call is a call for a prophetic undercover investigation into the trafficking of the vulnerable, for God stands in solidarity with the poor and the vulnerable.
As consumers and celebrators of the season of bounty and season of peace, we are asked to be vigilant, and fight against injustice, slavery, forced labor and trafficking – even within the agricultural industry within the borders of our country and across our borders. Failure to exercise constant vigilance on behalf of the women at risk and children at risk is like eating stale bread – the stale bread of insecurity. Let us continue to work for:
- Peace and food;
- Peace and justice for the migrants;
- Peace for the one who produces and the one who eats food; and
- God’s justice for the weak and the vulnerable in our midst.
Birth of peace in the house of bread
Advent is making room for the Prince of Peace who became a vulnerable baby in Bethlehem, which was called the House of Bread during the birth of Christ. The foundation of Christianity is Jesus the Christ, the Prince of Peace.
God’s peace is both for the perpetrator as well as the victim. God’s peace is for all those who are self-exiled from peace, as well as those who are denied peace because of perpetrators of evil. Repentance is a key requisite for those who exile themselves from God and those who exile people from the peace God intends for all to experience.
Advent is a call to lay down our personal psychological defenses, as well as weapons of war, and come to terms with God’s vision of peace. It is also a call to put on another set of weapons, a set of spiritual armor. The call is to be vigilant, and engage ourselves in God’s mission of delivering peoples from exploitation.
The author of the letter to the Ephesians says, “For our struggle is not against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places,” Ephesians 6:12.
Advent is a call to keep awake, be vigilant for the coming of the Lord and be re-gifted for God’s mission in our times.
Echoing and paraphrasing the Reformist Martin Luther, the Rev. Mitri Raheb, current pastor of the Lutheran church in Bethlehem in the Middle East, says: “Even if I knew the world is going to end tomorrow (that there is no future, no
Hope, no light at the end of the tunnel), I will go out into my garden (my society) Today (not tomorrow, tomorrow will be too late) and plant olive trees.”
An advent task is daring to plant olive trees wherever peace and bread are lacking, and retool ourselves for planting olive branches and building houses of bread. We are a Christmas people, fed by the Bread of Life, and are on the mission of birthing peace.
God of peace, you invite us into your embrace of peace during this season and always. May we act under your guidance and grace, repent and experience peace within ourselves and bring about peace and deliverance to all those who are exploited and oppressed by evil systems. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
*Glory E. Dharmaraj, Ph.D., is director of spiritual formation and mission theology for the Women’s Division of the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries.