Isaiah 8:22 – 9:5
Anguish has taken wing, dispelled is darkness; for there is no gloom where there was distress. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone. You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing. They rejoice before you as at the harvest, as people make merry when dividing spoils. For the yoke that burdened them, the pole on their shoulder, and the rod of their taskmaster you have smashed, as on the day of Midian. For every boot that tramped in battle, every cloak rolled in blood, will be burned as fuel for flames.
Liz McAlister, Plowshares and longtime peace activist, spoke at the Christian Peace Witness for Iraq service in Washington, DC at National City Christian Church on April 29, 2009. She gave a reflection on the Old Testament book of Isaiah.
The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them… For every boot that tramped in battle, every cloak rolled in blood will be burned – will be fuel for flames. Flanking the darkness, the judgment, even the unbelief Isaiah ignites our hope. We are on tip-toe; in the depths of our beings we feel it – hope for an end of war; hope for the reign of justice; hope in the morass of darkness. How? Why? I think it helps that Isaiah’s verbs are all past tense – as if these events had already happened. God showed him this vision so it is certain, even though it has not yet been worked out in history.
Seven centuries later Jesus stood in the Temple and declared, “I am the light of the world; they who follow me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12).
200 centuries later still, what of us to whom the light of the world has come? The Child Isaiah promised/ waited for came (and, some say, went?). But our world is neither peaceful nor just – justice is neither visible nor palpable. We muck about. Isaiah describes us well: an anguished people, living in a land of darkness, drenched in blood. If that description seems overstated, I suggest a perusal of the daily news; it doesn’t matter which day.
As we gather tonight, 12 U.S. aircraft carriers haunt the seas. Each carries more than 100 aircraft, plus missiles, guns, 3,000 or so sailors. Each sails with a flotilla of destroyers, missile launchers, cruisers, submarines and so forth, projecting U.S. Power to all corners of the earth…boots tramping in battle…
As we gather tonight, the U.S. has thousands of nuclear weapons: 500+ ICBMs with a total of 1700 nuclear warheads; 432 SLBMs with over 3,000 nuclear warheads; 243 bombers with over 1,000 nuclear warheads… and how many cloaks, uniforms, outfits from jeans to formal attire all rolled in blood.
As we gather tonight, our nation devastates Iraq and Afghanistan and holds people in prison under torture for life – all in our name. Prisoners are called terrorists by those with no moral ground to lecture anyone about terror or weapons, about right or justice. (The victims of torture do have a few who dare to speak for them – who have spoken in consistent and creative ways over the past 3 and 1/2 years and have witnessed daily these 100 days in front of the White House and all around this city. Tomorrow they will conclude their 100 days witness with direct action and nonviolent resistance I encourage all who can be with them tomorrow to do so.)
As we gather tonight, we know that the U. S. isn’t the Reign of God. The reality of our nation is violence, exploitation and terror. Wherever we live, we know that the U.S. has degenerated into nascent fascism at home and imperialist empire abroad. The powerful are drenched in profits; the people are drenched in blood.
So how does the promised disarmament come to be? Is it the work of a mighty conqueror? Is it the work of a military armed to the teeth? No! Isaiah is clear – all the implements of war destroyed. “Every boot…, every cloak …burned as fuel for flames.” Then and only then can our hope be realized.
These verses repeat in spirit Isaiah’s prophesy about beating swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. In both passages, it is people who make the difference – people of conscience, people like us. It is people who beat swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. In consequence of their action, nations don’t train for war anymore. In the passage we reflect on tonight, the flame consumes the weapons and detritus of war. I submit to you that that consuming flame is nothing more or less than our passion – passion and commitment that are strong enough, deep enough, loving enough to enliven and enflame a movement to end war and weapons and their domination of people and history.
I close my eyes to visualize the Peace, the wholeness this passage talks of – but I see instruments of war amassed all over this earth – billions spent on weaponry – $32,000 every second of every day and night. Our whole way of life is at odds with these Scriptures …. And how that truth hurts!
So I have to remind myself that Jesus did not hold out the prospect of immediate peace to us. He sends us, his disciples, among wolves; warns that our families will be divided, that people will hate us and drag us before the law of the land. Jesus achieved peace by refusing the option for violence, even in face of a dreaded death. His Spirit will bring peace through nonviolence over all the earth – if, if, if, or if and when people allow themselves to be animated by the Spirit of Christ’s peace.
We await the fulfillment of this biblical vision of peace in our world. But we can’t just wait for it! We’ve got to be part of bringing it into being! We confront those in power concerning their wars and rampages against earth and life… their plans to reduce the world to ash? We have to confront them. Our hearts and minds are deserts as long as we live in harmony with depthless suffering and monstrous evil that constitute so much of our world today.
So, how can we stretch ourselves to speak out – to be – more prophetic and less self-absorbed,
– more compassionate and less fearful,
– more loving and less concerned about personal consequences, and above all,
– to become women and men who are passionate enough to ignite a flame to end earth’s domination by a devastating war machine and so make way for justice and peace – here and now. And can we say AMEN to this – knowing that the colloquial translation of Amen, is – we bet our lives on it.