Isaiah chapter 2, the first reading for tonight, tells us this: “and 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 anymore.” This glimpse of a vision of peace so captivated the minds of a generation that in 1959 the USSR presented a big bronze sculpture [by one Evgeniy Vuchetich1] to the United Nations of a man hammering a weapon into a farming implement. The hope it expressed was an end to war... a resolution to mankind’s conflicts and problems… a situation in life where no one would need weapons of any sort. Caught up in the optimistic spirit of the age, I suspect they thought the diplomatic discussions of United Nations would accomplish all this, by sheer force of good intentions from those who took counsel together. Somehow through collaboration and discussion and brainstorming together they thought we’d figure out a way to meet everyone’s needs, to calm everyone down, to solve the unsolvable problems like ongoing grudges and turf wars and injustice. The problems were only partly one of technical work... a good deal of our problems require someone with the wisdom to get humanity ordered, straightened out.
And yet what became of this high hope…? What became of the spirit of that age? After the statue was installed we had another three decades of Cold War. Tensions. A great deal of ‘babel’ about peace… with lot more progress in making weapons deadlier, drugs more addictive, progress in extending the influence of corrupt and evil tyrants. Look at the world today… Humankind’s moral capacity has hardly kept up with our ability to do harm. The visionary ideal of a world at peace is certainly a worthy one, yet perhaps we ought to consider: whose counsel and whose deliberations will bring it about?
Well, that same passage from Isaiah chapter 2 gives some important context. Verse 3 “For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. 4 He shall judge between the nations, and [He] shall decide disputes for many peoples….” The great [naive] optimistic idealism of our age is that we will figure it all out, that our counsel and consideration and invention is what will solve all of our problems. Yes, mankind would be a lot better off if we were wiser in our deliberations... but the vision of peace from Isaiah the prophet makes it clear: This Law, the Word, the judgment, the decisions that ultimately make for peace come not from us, but from the Lord.
Literally translated, Isaiah 2 verse 3 says here: “For out of Zion shall go forth the Torah,” (תוֹרָ֔ה) that is, the Instruction, the teaching, the Word of the Lord. Not simply the right opinion in abstract, but the best advice on how to carry it out.2 It’s one thing to philosophize about the right answer, another to do it yourself, and still another yet to bring that truth as a blessing into the lives of others.
The name “Zion” is another name for the city of Jerusalem, or even more clearly: Zion is the name of the mountain on which the temple in Jerusalem is built. So for the Teaching, Torah, instruction to come from Zion means that it comes out from the Lord God Himself. It makes sense that He, the ruler and king of all creation... that He, the all-wise and all-holy One, that He would have the best counsel, the best judgment, the best practical recommendations to unite and bring peace to all the fractured and dis-united nations of the world.3
Such is the promise prophesied to Ahaz, that king of Israel who was worried and beset-by-war4: Trust the counsel of the Lord, and look for salvation in the Advent of His King. Such is the promise to our entire fallen race: Look to the Lord’s Messiah, Son of God born of the house and lineage of King David as the savior of all the nations. Such also is the promise to you, that we need not hold up human self-advancement as an idol from which we expect salvation, but rather the promise that we too will have peace in the Advent of the Word from that goes forth from Zion.
Such also is the promise given to Mary, in today’s gospel reading. Although humble and of little account compared to the kings and high persons of her day, it was to her that the angel Gabriel announced the incarnation. By God’s grace, she was given to be the mother of our Lord, an instrument for the advent of the promised Messiah, at the same time true God and true man.5 The Word of the Lord went forth, the Torah was made flesh in the person of Christ Jesus. The angel says: “31c ...and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”” He is the king, the prince of peace, the wonderful counselor. It is in and through the work of this Word of God that peace can be restored to our scattered and disunited nations. He took on human nature to redeem our fallen nature. He suffers and dies, taking into Himself the vengeant punishment due to our fallen race. Your sins are forgiven. He rose again and in rising opened the way for resurrection to life everlasting for all who believe. The angels will sing “peace on earth” (Lk 2:14) only because of what this promised – and present – Messiah does. Our King Jesus, Who descended … has also ascended, sitting on the Throne of God, ruling over all things, and reconciles you6 to the Father for a life of blessedness in the resurrection.
So just as Mary received the Word faithfully, saying “38c let it be to me according to your word,” so also we. You who want peace in the world, you who want peace at home, a respite from the war of nations or the drama and turf wars of your own communities... Turn to the Lord, and let it be to you according to His Word. Turn away from the prideful thinking about the capacity of our cleverness or cooperation. Let His instruction guide your thinking and your doing. Read the proverbs. Read the moral instruction in the epistles. Read the gospels, receiving there the truth of God’s incarnate mercy as that which keeps and restores your life. Hear the things that make for peace (Zechariah 8:15-17? Lk 19:2?): the teaching, the Torah, ...the instruction of our Lord was made flesh for us men and for our salvation. Let your soul magnify the Lord, and our spirits rejoice in the Lord God, our savior. In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
2 I cannot remember the full quote, but it was once said (by Plutarch?) in praise of the ‘law-giver’ Lycurgus (founder of Sparta), that “the philosophers gave us a way of thinking, but Lycurgus gave us a city.” The idea is that abstract conceptualizing is one thing, but eminently better is that true law which translates into just action. How much greater then is the Torah/Word/εντολη spoken by the Father, made flesh in His Son Jesus Christ, to Whom is given all authority in heaven and on earth, Whose Christendom has been of no small import even here in time?
3 So great will this wisdom be that people from all the scattered nations of the world will come to hear and learn. Verse 3 “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.””
4 See Isaiah 7:1-2: “1 In the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, son of Uzziah, king of Judah, Rezin the king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah the king of Israel came up to Jerusalem to wage war against it, but could not yet mount an attack against it. 2 When the house of David was told, “Syria is in league with Ephraim,” the heart of Ahaz and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind.”
5 The feast of Christmas celebrates the first revealing of the Messiah to human eyes, though in truth – He was incarnate well before.
6 All mankind is reconciled to the Father through the blood of Christ Jesus. Those who receive this gracious promise through faith are the ones who receive the forgiveness of sins, and therefore also the resurrection to blessed life everlasting.