Teachers are visionaries. At their best, teachers inspire their students to dream of and work to create a better world. There is a famous scene in the movie “Dead Poets Society” (1989) when the odd out-of-bounds teacher Mr. Keating, played by Robin Williams, has all the boys stand on their chairs to get a different perspective on the world. In the process, he turns teenage boys into lovers of poetry, dreamers of a new way of living as a “band of brothers” in a community of passionate learners.
I am struck by how Isaiah’s Advent vision describes God as a teacher standing on Mt. Zion. And like the Master Teacher that God is, God’s lecture is magnetic. The nations stream to class, like a river flowing upward against gravity to the highest of mountains. It’s as if God has all the nations stand on their chairs to imagine a different possible future. The instruction, the Word of the Lord, goes forth with such sway that the nation-students do the unimaginable: they beat their instruments of war into farming implements, no longer willing to go to war against one another. They leave their mountain-classroom singing what would become the great African American spiritual inspired by this Advent vision, “Gonna lay down my sword and shield, down by the riverside… I ain’t gonna study war no more!”
In this war-weary world, let us stand on chairs, if we must, to catch a glimpse of Isaiah’s vision of nations who one day willingly turn their war colleges into colleges of peace; nations who one day choose to study war no more. Now that would be worthy of an Advent anthem, “Gloria en excelsis, Deo!”
the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
3 Many peoples shall come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
4 He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
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 any more.
5 O house of Jacob,
come, let us walk
in the light of the Lord!