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The first Sunday of Advent is coming, the one most traditions designate as the Sunday of hope. That’s one of my favorite themes: hope is what keeps us going when all else seems lost or distant, and it is powerful medicine.

Hope works on many levels. When I plant squash and tomatoes every spring, for example, I hope for a good crop. When I come to my parents’ home in Georgia at Thanksgiving or Christmas each year, I hope the pecan trees have done well.

But it works on other levels, too. We all know what it is to that we can be financially sound, have good health, experience meaningful relationships with others, live in peace, find our places in the world.

None of those things, I have noticed, are automatic. I can’t hope for broccoli and collards this fall if I’m unwilling to plant and tend them. I can’t be financially sound if I don’t work, can’t have good health if I don’t exercise, can’t have meaningful relationships if I don’t take some initiative and do my part.

That’s one of the reasons I like Isaiah 2:1-5, one of the lectionary texts for this Sunday, so much. The prophet longs for a day when peace and justice reign over the earth, but it doesn’t just show up: it comes when all nations stream to Jerusalem in order to receive instruction from God, and learn to walk in God’s ways. Peace and justice and security result from people learning to “walk in the light of the LORD.”

If we want to see these things in our world today, we can’t just sit around and hope it will happen. We can’t just pray for it. Instead, we get involved and do our part to feed the hungry and liberate the oppressed and stand up for the downtrodden. We recognize that hope works.

When Isaiah spoke of turning our swords into plow points and bending our spears into pruning hooks, it was a reminder that metal doesn’t often bend itself: we have a role to play in tranforming tools of war into implements that feed the world.

The first Sunday of Advent doesn’t just call us to hope: it calls us to work.

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