Turning our swords into plowshares: A homily for the 1st Sunday of Advent (Year A)

handgunsToday we begin the sacred season of Advent, that time of preparation before Christmas. Msgr and I have been working on getting the Advent decorations up in the house. I put up a tree in my room and in my office. It’s been nice and gloomy out the last several days. I’ve started the holiday music and have already enjoyed some egg nog with a little something special in it. Our thoughts should be turning towards….towards…..Christmas. And we have some getting ready to do.

The first reading today offers us an example of how we might get ready for Advent. There, we see Isaiah calling his people to prepare for the Lord by “beat[ing] their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.” This is lovely imagery. A sword and a spear are of course instruments of war, destruction. But a plowshare and a pruning hook—these things are quite the opposite: they bring life to the people. The plowshare is the main cutting blade of a plow; it makes the plow work, makes the harvest possible. And the harvest brings life. The same metal can either bring death or bring life. It is a matter of how it is used.

Our first reading, then, tells us that one way to get ready for Advent is to be people of peace—in order to prepare for the coming of the Prince of Peace. This may require that we repurpose some of the swords and spears in our lives, that is, it may require that we repurpose some of the destructive things in our lives into life-giving things. I want to think about what some of our swords and spears that need repurposing might be….

  • What about the negative words we speak? Sarcasm is a deadly thing. It is intellectualized anger, cynicism. It does not build another up but instead destroys the other and makes us bitter in the process. Gossip, too, tears others down. What if we made a commitment this Advent to watch our mouths? Our tongues, says scripture, are as powerful as knives. Better to use our words to lift others up, raise their spirits.
  • How about anger? There is a lot of this in our houses I fear. It breaks my heart to hear a parent yell angrily at a child, or a child to yell at a parent. The other day I was at Lucas Oil and a father was shouting at his four-year-old son for not walking fast enough. That child is not learning a good lesson there. What if, instead of getting angry with those we love, we were patient with them. What if, instead of being angry, we said a prayer for them or let them win the argument—even if we know they’re wrong.
  • What about excessive alcohol and other illegitimate hobbies? St. Paul talks of these things today. A beer every now and again is fine. Getting drunk is not. And too many people go down this road during pre-Christmas season. Celebrate we must. But we need not sabotage our spirits with too many of the wrong kind of spirits if you get my drift. There are other poisons—drugs and pornography for example. These things are deadly—and they not only kill us. What if, instead of gathering one night at some party where we know we might have too much to drink, we instead called up a church friend and went to dinner? Or went to the adoration chapel?
  • What about our loneliness? I hear from many people that they are lonely this time of year. Some of them are married. Bishop Sheen says that every moment of loneliness is an invitation to intimacy—with God, with others. What if, instead of wallowing away in self-pity, we did something constructive with our loneliness? What if we wrote some cards, invited some people over, prayed in the adoration chapel, helped in the food pantry, rang Salvation Army bells?

Those are just four examples of some swords we have—things that are destructive (negative words, anger, bad hobbies, and loneliness) but that we can repurpose into instruments of peace and life and love. There is a statue in DC, a huge 11 x 19 foot steel sculpture that sits outside a police department. It is in the shape of a plowshare and symbolizes peace. It is made up of some 8000 handguns that police have confiscated. We are meant to build this kind of sculpture—to take all of the destructive things in our lives and let God make something life-giving out of it all.

Msgr made a good point to me yesterday. He said, “You know, if you think about it, it’s a lot harder to make war than it is to make peace.” So true. It is hard to start a war with another country. It costs a fortune. It is hard to start a war in our own families, and to keep that war going takes a lot of energy. It takes work to go out and get drunk: you have to spend a lot of money, worry about your car, and then you have to deal with the hangover. It takes work to do drugs: you have to spend a lot, you have to know the right people, you have to avoid the police. It takes work to go to the wrong place on the internet; it does not just happen. It takes work to keep anger alive in our hearts. It easier and better when to cultivate peace, to live as God invites us to live—and he promises that we will be better, our families will be better, our church, country and world will be better when we do.

And it is into our families, church, country and world where the baby Jesus, the Prince of Peace, wishes to be born this Christmas. Let’s prepare for his coming.