This Sunday marks the start of the new liturgical year and the season of Advent, that time of expectancy and meditation on the coming celebration of the Nativity of Our Lord – a season in which that virtue of hope receives its sublime nourishment, in that respect a season much like that of Easter. Both of them times of serenity and contemplation.
And yet, and yet . . .
A something intervenes, gnawing at the consciousness: the Philippines and the natural disaster it now endures – that same consciousness already beset by the running sore of the civil war in Syria – there a disaster caused by human folly.
'They shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks.'
Of the flood of pictures from the Philippines shown on TV portraying the ruin that the hurricane brought to the land, one clip in particular bespoke its effect with the power of simplicity. We saw a man, head and shoulders only, gazing over the ruin of his neighbourhood saying the chilling words "I have no hope!"
At the same time as the Philippines struggle, the civil war in Syria ruins that country, threatens neighbours, sends people fleeing from their homes to the scant security of refugee camps across the border in nearby lands.
Many countries have responded with offers of money and help in the form of personnel, food, medical supplies, tents to help counter the effects of the Philippine calamity: the U.S., United Kingdom, China, Saudi Arabia, Israel, India, Japan and many more all come together to help. Countries which at many times in history did as Isaiah says in today's reading – "learn war."
And what of the sorry story of Syria? When I learned of the proposal to destroy the deposits of poison gas in Syria, the international support the proposal had and the agreement of the Assad regime to the destruction of that menace, I felt hope, considering the ominous alternative.
I thought, "Do we have a precedent here for the destruction of weapons of war, a hint of a solution?" Where have I heard of something much like this?
Here in Advent I find an answer. Perhaps naiveté has taken charge of my own thinking as I see the world rally to this display of nature unbound and struggling with its own folly in the real work of Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
The words from the prophet Isaiah in the First Reading did it. He uses metaphors of his day to tell about nations: "They shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks."
In our day, we might see nations in these two distinct occasions, as if heeding his words brought up to date: they send aircraft, field hospitals, soldiers and water purifying units on missions of mercy; they convert deadly chemicals into their benign, harmless components.
Though the words fall on the eye and ear clumsily unlike the swords and ploughshares we say in our times, "You know what I mean."
Awake for the Lord comes. May he find a land opening unto him.
(Ralph Himsl: firstname.lastname@example.org)