Wednesday (December 22, 2021)

“… And they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore…” Micah 4:3

 There is an often-told story that in the year 312, the Roman general, Constantine, fought a great battle at the Milvian Bridge.  On the eve of battle the future emperor had a dream in which the sign of the “Chi-Rho” (the first two Greek letters of the word “Christos”) appeared before his eyes.  A voice from heaven then declared, “By THIS you shall conquer.”  Constantine awoke, had the Chi-Rho painted on the shields of all his troupes; they won the battle, Constantine become emperor, and Christianity became the new religion of the Roman Empire.

Thus began a long and dubious relationship between Christianity and violence – a precarious embrace of brute force that led to centuries of holy wars, crusades, heretic persecutions, witch-burnings, and a Thirty-Years War that annihilated one-third of the population of Europe, all in the name of a religion of peace…  And all because Constantine never considered the possibility that the voice in the dream meant, “By this sign – NOT by the sword – you shall conquer.”

We live in a world that reminds us, every day, of our culture of violence; a culture that lives and dies by many different kinds of swords.  There are swords of war, swords of gang rivalry, swords of bullying and belittling on social media, swords of derision and humiliation in political speech, swords of economic disparity and swords of domestic violence, all contrived, in some fashion, “by this to conquer” … But I wonder who wins.

The famous image from the prophet Micah, about beating our swords into plowshares, has always seemed, to many, to be naïve, even foolish – certainly unrealistic.  But it is important to remember that Micah was calling his hearers beyond present reality and toward a vision of what God’s future looks like.  It is a vision in which our instruments of death and conquest are transformed into instruments of life, abundance, well-being for all.  It is a vision of peace and good will.  It is a vision in which those who are left out in the cold are freely welcomed in.  It is a vision in which the King of Creation conquers through love and self-sacrifice.

Above all, it is a vision that, kept in front of our eyes in this season, reminds us that when we begin to use our ingenuity to conquer the sword, rather than using it, everyone wins.

Pastor Wayne Miller

Stir up your power, O God, and come.  On our hearts imprint your image.  Hold before our eyes the new creation you are building.  Give us the courage to trust the Prince of Peace more than our own illusions of power and bring us at last into your kingdom.  Amen.