The Old Testament reading for today (Isaiah 11: 1 – 10) has been used by many to describe a world at peace. It is clearly not an image of the world today nor is it an image many people think is even remotely possible. Too many people feel that war is an inherent part of society and it is best to deal with war rather than try and eliminate war.
I believe that war can be eliminated and that is must be eliminated. But to eliminate war does not mean to just remove the instruments of war (as described in last week’s Old Testament reading, Isaiah 2: 1 – 5 ). To eliminate war you must eliminate the causes of war. When Jesus came and began His ministry, he proclaimed that the sick would be healed, the lame would walk, the blind would see, the deaf would hear, the homeless would find shelter, and the oppressed would be set free.
Sickness, homelessness, and oppression are and have always been the root causes of war. IF we do not remove the causes of war, then we will never eliminate war.
In his 1961 speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations, President John Kennedy said, “today, every inhabitant of this planet must contemplate the day when this planet may no longer be inhabited.” (John F. Kennedy, Address before the General Assembly of the United Nations, September 25, 1961) At a time when the threat of nuclear war was clear, President Kennedy understood that the initiation of nuclear war by any country, be it the Soviet Union, the United States, or some unnamed country, would lead to the total devastation of the world.
Today, we may not live under that same threat but the threat of the destruction of this world is still a possibility. It may be by nuclear weapons, biochemical weapons, or terrorism. It might be through global warming or through some other unknown destructive threat. But it is clear that we cannot live in a world where each country views its own interests and values as more important than any other country’s interests and values.
If we are to live in a world of peace and free from the threat of destruction, then we must work together as countries and as individuals. That is not to say that we will have one country that occupies the whole world. The nations that inhabit this world and the many cultures represented are too complex to even think that this is a possibility.
Of course, there are those today who say that it can be accomplished under the auspices of one of the great religions. We constantly hear from many fundamentalists how they wish to establish a kingdom of God under the auspices of their religion. I am not one of them.
The establishment of such a kingdom requires that we establish that our religion is the single true religion and that all other religions are false. One of the reasons Paul wrote what he did for this week (Romans 15: 4 – 13) (amazing how he knew that it would be read this week) was because he wanted to point out that Christ’s message transcended the boundary of the religions of the time. Christ’s message was for all, not just a few.
But what happens if a person has a valid belief system and leads a life that is set by that system. Are they condemned? Some might say they are but that would require that our rules be used to determine the outcome of an entirely different system. It would be like we used the rules of European football (i.e. soccer) to determine the outcome of an American football game. It won’t work.
Any individual has the right to believe as they wish, provided that their belief is based on a valid system. There are, of course, many who create their own belief systems, picking and choosing from other systems in order to get the best of all systems. But such an artificial belief system is an incomplete system. You cannot select what you want from one system and something from another system solely so that you can justify what you do. You may disagree with parts of a system but you cannot cast that part aside just because you disagree with it. It would be like saying that you follow Christ but you wish to hold onto all of your wealth and allow no one to share in it. Christ’s commandment was very clear; to follow Him require a total commitment, not a partial one. I am sure that a study of other belief systems would lead to the same conclusion.
There are those, of course, who say they are believers but their actions belie their words. When John the Baptist calls the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to hear him preach “a brood of vipers” (Matthew 3: 7), it was because their words and thoughts were not backed up by their actions.
The Pharisees and Sadducees proclaimed that by their position and name that they had received salvation. But, as John the Baptist pointed out, salvation comes only when you change your ways. Repentance is an act, not a statement. You cannot say that you have repented; you have to change what you do.
The result of repentance is that things change. The world cannot and will not survive if our words are contrary to our actions. We cannot say that we believe in peace when we continue to build the instruments of war or seek to provoke the initiation of war. We cannot say that we are a nation of plenty when people go hungry and countless others have no home in which to live. We cannot say that our healthcare system is the best there is if people have no medical insurance and are told that the emergency room is sufficient for many illnesses.
We cannot expect the world to change when the gap between the wealthy and the poor grows each year. We cannot expect the world to change when people believe that those who have wealth will receive glory in God’s Kingdom and those who are poor are sinful and are to be cast aside. And we cannot expect the other countries of this world to act any differently if we cannot do what we say we believe.
Isaiah concluded his prophecy by saying that the root of Jesse’s tree will stand as a signal to all the people and all the nations. (Isaiah 11: 10) The birth of Christ is not just a day; it is the beginning. We have a world that may not survive because there are too many threats to its survival. We have a chance through the birth of Christ to have a new world, a world in which the Gospel message becomes true and more than words in a passage of a book.
As we progress through Advent, we prepare for the Coming of Christ. We also prepare for what happens after He comes. If we are to have a world of peace, it will because we have repented of our old ways and began to live a true life in Christ.