December 1, 2013–Swords, Ploughshares, and John Lennon: War is Over?

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​Contributed by Jay McDivett, Mequon, WI

Warm-up Question

How have the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan affected your family or friends?

Swords, Ploughshares, and John Lennon: War is Over?”

The U.S. has been engaged in active conflict in Afghanistan since
October 7, 2001. While the country’s leaders have been working to bring
troops home, with a hoped for deadline of December 31, 2014, recently an
agreement was reached to extend an active presence of at least 10,000
U.S. troops long past that date.

Meanwhile, in Iraq, the U.S. departure has been followed by an
accelerated slide into civil war, which is one major factor shaping
plans to stay in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future: We don’t want
that country to go down the road that Iraq seems to be on.


next door, the international community is working to find peaceful
solutions for what seems to be an escalating and open-ended civil war in
Syria. If things continue to deteriorate and heat up, it remains to be
seen whether the U.S. will be able to avoid participating in yet another
war in this divided region of the world.

Back at home, gun violence continues to weigh heavily on the hearts
and minds of people all over the country. In the midst of violence
abroad and at home, some are trying to find ways to open up space for
peace. In Newburyport, MA, pastor Christopher Ney of Kids as Peacemakers
and Central Congregational Church is urging people to take a week off
from violent video games. Especially in this holiday season, as every
gaming system is coming out with their newest games and consoles –
nearly all of which include violent imagery – Ney is wondering if it
might be time to take a break.

Discussion Questions

  • Most of you probably do not remember a time when the U.S. was not
    engaged in active conflict/war. How does it feel – and how does it
    matter to you – to grow up during a time of war? How hopeful are you
    that there will ever be peace?
  • How do you feel about Pr Ney’s suggestion of taking a week off from violent video games? What difference would it make?
  • How often do you talk about the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, or
    anywhere else, in your household? What do you think explains how much –
    or how little – these things are on your minds as a family?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, December 1, 2013 (First Sunday of Advent)

Isaiah 2:1-5

Romans 13:11-14

Matthew 24:36-44

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser.
Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of
readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Biblical Reflection

Today is the first Sunday in Advent. Advent is a season that is often
overlooked in the midst of the Christmas rush. Christmas shopping and
frivolity aside, frankly: not a lot of people want to hear the kinds of
things that this season asks us to think about. Advent is not
“business as usual.” Advent seeks to turn the world upside down. Advent
says: “Pay attention! The way things are is not the way things should –
or could – or will be.” More than anything, Advent is a reminder that
nothing lasts forever. All things – people, countries, fortunes, trials –
all things will come to an end.

This is both great and difficult news. It’s difficult because no one
wants to talk about how all the good things we enjoy – family, friends,
stuff, etc. – will not last forever. But it is also great news – because
there is plenty of stuff that we have gotten accustomed to, things that
are a part of “just the way things are,” that are not the way things
ought to be.

For example: War.

The U.S. engagement in Afghanistan will soon become the longest war
in this nation’s history. Especially for those who were born during or
after 2001, war is simply a fact of life, especially for those who have
family and friends in the armed services. This has been true for many of
our brothers and sisters around the world, at many different times in
history (just ask anyone from Afghanistan.  This isn’t the first time
they’ve raised up a generation or more in the midst of war).

This was also true of our ancestors, the children of Israel. The
prophet Isaiah lived during one of the longest stretches of war and
international anxiety in the history of God’s people. The book begins
around the time that the northern kingdom of Israel was destroyed by the
Assyrian empire. Isaiah lived in the southern kingdom (Judah), but he
and his friends had lots of family in the north. Everyone in Judah and
Jerusalem (the capital) lived in constant fear that they were next.
Indeed, the southern kingdom met its doom 140 years later. That means
the people of Judah lived in a heightened state of anxiety and conflict
for several generations. They knew nothing but “wars and rumors of
wars.” A strange time to raise your kids, to be sure.

Into this anxious and dangerous time, God sent Isaiah with a vision
of massive transformation: The time of war will come to an end. All the
weapons of war will be pounded into implements for farming. As my
favorite Old Testament professor, Dr Ralph Klein, likes to say (and I’m
paraphrasing his own paraphrase): “They shall pound their rifles into
lawn mowers, and their tanks into John Deere tractors.” There will come a
time when we will have no more use for the stuff that kills – only for
the things that help us grow and live.

Lots will have to change in order for this vision to become a
reality. Some of that is our work to do. But ultimately, in a world that
loves war and violence as much as we do, this Advent vision of
soldiers-turned-farmers is something only God can bring to birth. In the
meantime, as we wait and watch, we hold onto the promise that someday
we will be raising children in a time of peace – here and everywhere.
Someday, the fields of Afghanistan will be full of waves of grain, not
laced with landmines. Someday, by God’s grace, all the bloodstained
clothes will be bleached and sparkling white. Someday, the old John
Lennon carol (surely you’ve heard it at Target in the last few days)
will actually ring true: “Happy Christmas: War is Over.”

This is what Advent is all about: We sing and pray as if the world is becoming something other than what it is today. And by God’s grace alone – it is.

Discussion Questions

  • How does your family observe the season of Advent? How could you observe this season more intentionally?
  • What are some things about “the way things are” that you wish could
    change? What are some things about “the way things are” that you hope
    will stay the same?
  • When you think about things you hope will
    change, how do you think that will happen? What role do you play in
    that? What part belongs to others? What part belongs only to God?
  • How long do you think it will take for us to live in a world without
    war and violence? What will make that day come faster or slower?

Activity Suggestions

Activity #1: “Swords into ploughshares”

Grab a stack of newspapers, magazines, catalogs, whatever. Invite the
youth to find images of violence – movie/video game ads, images of fake
(or real) guns, etc. Cut them into pieces and turn them into images of
peace, growth, life, and love (crops, food, peace sign,
tractors/shovels, dinner tables, etc.). Hang these up somewhere in the
church, with a sign/banner that reads: “Swords into ploughshares.”

Activity #2: “A world without war”

Get a map of the world.  (Google image search “world map”; you get things like this:

Circle places in the world where you know there are conflicts, wars, etc.

Gather around the map and invite participants to lay their
hands/fingers on a place in the world where there is conflict (and,
really, that could be anywhere). Invite them to pray about those places –
and particularly children who are growing up there – that those kids
and those places might know peace. You may or may not want to listen to
John Lennon’s “Happy Christmas: War is Over” while you do this J.

Closing Prayer

God, this world is in love with war. We, however, are not – and
neither are you. Help us look for signs of hope, work for moments of
peace, and continue to dream about a world without war and violence. “O
Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” In the meantime, as much as you are able, keep
us safe. Amen