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Monday, November 28, 2016

O Come… Sermon for Advent 1 - 2017


Psalm 122
Isaiah 2: 1 - 5

First, I’d like to say: “Happy New Year!” You smile because you think I’m early, but I’m not. I’m right on time. We all live under several different calendars – those of us with school age children have the school calendar that begins in August and ends in May, In the Salvation Army our fiscal calendar begins in October and ends in September (I don’t understand it. I just use it.)  And in the Christian church we have the liturgical calendar, the church year that begins today – the first Sunday of Advent. So again, I say: “Happy New Year!” And may it be a happy one, filled with goodness and light.

In the summer of 1914 the world seemed fairly bright. Things were going well. There was hope and a sense that the world was moving forward into a brighter, healthier, wealthier future. This isn’t to suggest that there weren’t significant social issues that needed to be addressed, but there was a sense that the world was getting better.

International trade  was growing with traditional goods as well as new technologies: Electrical goods, chemical dyes, internal combustion vehicles, gold, diamonds, African rubber, South American cattle, Australian sheep, Canadian wheat, etc… goods were bought and sold around the globe. (Keegan 10 – 11)

Of that time, the English journalist Norman Angell wrote in his book, The Great Illusion (1910) that the disruption of international trade and credit that would inevitably be caused by the outbreak of war would either inhibit nations from going to war, or would force them to bring conflict to a swift resolution. (Keegan 10) Because war would be futile, and it was a matter of “enlightened self-interest,” to avoid going to war. (Angell 488)

This Belle Époque was further enhanced by the development of international laws. “It had been recognized then… that the peace of Europe was a matter for the concern of all European countries. There were certain categories of actions that were widely recognized as threatening the peace and security of all states, and as such actions were not supposed to be taken without prior consultation with the other governments” (Lafore 31).

There was also the growing recognition that continued the militarization of nation states would not protect the peace, but would lead to war. Tsar Nicholas II called for an international conference in 1899 to strengthen limitations on armaments and to found an international court dedicated to settling disputes between stations. Tsar Nicholas warned that the accelerating arms race – to produce ever larger armies, heavier artillery, and bigger warships – was transforming the armed peace into a crushing burden that weighs on all nations. (Keegan 17) “It appears evident, then, that if this state of things were prolonged, it would inevitably lead to the very cataclysm which it is desired to avert, and the horrors of which make every thinking man shudder in advance.” (Nicholas II)

And if the bonds of international trade and commerce guided by enlightened self-interest, along with the recognition of the need for international law and the need to check the increasing militarization of nations weren’t enough to keep the peace, there were also the bonds of familial relationships.  The leaders of many of the nations that came to be involved in “the great war” were related either by blood or marriage or both. The Kaiser in Germany was cousin to the Tsar in Russia. “It was broadly true that all European royalty were cousins; even the Hapsburgs of Austria, the most imperious of sovereigns, occasionally mingled their blood with outsiders; and since every state in Europe, except France and Switzerland, was a monarchy, that made for a very dense network of inter-state connections indeed” (Keegan 16).

But in the summer of 1914, when everything seemed good and bright, primed for the increasingly peaceful relations between nations, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo sent the world into an extended paroxysm of violent, bloody death, the likes of which the world had never seen, and from which – one hundred years later – we still have not fully recovered. The “war to end all wars” as it came to be known, did nothing of the sort.

World War One came to an end, only to flare up again a few years later in World War Two, which ended but not really. The cold war, Korea, Vietnam, Algeria, Yugoslavia, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan… the War to End All Wars continues to be fought.

But it will happen. It will happen. It must happen. We must put an end to our incessant warring. The prophet Isaiah had this hope, this faith, this vision – that there would come a time when humanity would put away their weapons of war and learn the ways of peace.

“How desperately our world needs such a faith! Without its inspiration and its power to sustain our search for a way of peace, we are condemned to the dreadful prospect of wars succeeding wars until the human race destroys itself. We have in each generation the strange, tragic spectacle of men endowed with genius, yet wholly unable to learn the art of living together in peace. Even with bitter experience of the horrors of war, every proposal for peace is basically related to the use of force” (Kilpatrick 180 – 181).

The prophet dreams, and I dream and hope and am anxious for that time when I can “lay down my sword and shield down by the riverside, and study war no more.”




“Let’s go up to the mountain of Yahweh,” I rejoiced when they said that, because there we shall learn peace. There we shall learn the peace of God. There we can be united and whole with our weapons put away, our weapons melted down and the instruments of death turned into the tools of production. There our swords will melted down and made into plows and our spears will be hammered into sickles.

Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are the peacemakers – they have learned the ways of God and walk in his paths. Peace based on “enlightened self-interest” will not hold. Peace through continually increasing militarization – that is, peace through superior fire power, - is a lie. There is only the peace of God found in love, and grace, and forgiveness.

If we are sharpening our swords, instead of melting them down, then we have not learned the law of God; we have not gone up to the mountain of the house of Yahweh.

Come, please. O Come, let us go up to the house of God, up to the city of peace.


Angell, Norman, “The Influence of Banking on International Relations,” Speech to the Institute of Bankers, London. January 17, 1912. 

Keegan, John. The First World War. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 2000. Print.

Kilpatrick, G.G.D. “The Book of Isaiah: Exposition” The Interpreter’s Bible. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press. 1956. Print.

Lafore, Laurence. The Long Fuse: An Interpretation of the Origins of World War I. Philadelphia, PA: J.B. Lippencott Company. 1965. Print. 

Nicholas II, “Peace Conference at the Hague 1899” 



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