I love Sunday School.
In yesterday’s meeting, my leader introduced me to this amazing sculpture. Its name is “Let Us Beat Swords into Plowshares” and it was created by Russian artist Evgeniy Vuchetich, then donated to the United Nations by the U.S.S.R. in 1959. The title of the work comes from Isaiah 2:4, which reads: [The God of Jacob] will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore…
Beautiful imagery, yes?
Here’s the hook for me: Evgeniy Vuchetich’s life in Russia spanned 1908-1974. Therefore, he would have been old enough at the time of the Russian Revolution to retain memories of it, and most of his life and work took place within the context of the U.S.S.R.’s wartorn, poverty-stricken Communist regime. For me, this begs the question: how did Vechetich ever conceptualize such a work of art? For that matter, how did he ever gain access to a Bible, let alone become familiar with such a relatively obscure passage within it?
Regardless, I am struck by the power of the story represented here. A man in one of the world’s most despised and ravaged nations was able to develop and cast a vision of better days that the Bible promised will come. To me, this is the epitome of Christmas and of faith: maintaining hope for God’s promises in the face of greatest darkness.
The full Christmas story, of course, features great darkness of its own – oppression, racism, broken relationships, blood, darkness, manure, pain, and tyranny preserving itself through slaughter. Even more, all of this took place on a backdrop of thousands of years of the same. People had heard of salvation coming for so long, it would have been easy to shrug off hope for a more comfortable blanket of disappointment or apathy. Instead, a few precious souls persevered and embodied within this darkness a legacy of light, gifts, faith, beauty, singing, generosity, and peace.
In discussion with my leader yesterday, I was reminded of the Veggie Tale, Abe and the Amazing Promise. I didn’t appreciate Abe fully at the time that I saw it, but these meditations brought it home for me. According to Pa Grape’s Abraham, navigating the space between promise and the fulfillment “is all about hope and trusting the God is gonna’ do what He says He’s gonna’ do.” To bide the time, Abe focused on dreaming of holding his son and playing with him. This gave him the energy to fend off despair and to love the other families in his life who had what he craved.
For much of my life, the close of Christmas Day has brought a twinge of disappointment. With the presents all revealed (and sometimes already broken), the feast consumed, and the advent candles burning down, I am tempted to believe that it’s all over for another year. The reality, however, is that I am only in the middle of the story as a whole. Christmas traditions are not the focal point in and of themselves, they are symbolic reminders of greater things to come. Nothing will truly be over until God’s promises have been fulfilled and He has set everything right in the world again.
I look at Vuchetich’s sculpture and imagine a day when small children stand around it and exclaim, “So that’s what a sword looks like!” because they’ve never seen one before. I look at the presents under the tree and feel a thrill of hope that even better gifts await us all. I look at my own dreams and cast for the day when they are realized, even beyond what I can imagine now.
This is Christmas.