Excerpted from How Will We Welcome the Prince of Peace? An Advent Guide for Lectionary Year A from the NC Council of Churches.
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.
Isaiah 11:1-10 _________________________________________________________________________________
Isaiah had a way with words. Even for a prophet, he could paint an extraordinary picture, and the images from this one feel….unattainable. The hair-brained vision for the wilderness wandering, sack-cloth wearing hippies of his day who were still faithful enough to believe we could all just get along. Species-transcending world peace on steroids – really, it’s almost quaint.
Wolves and lambs, calves and lions. What self-respecting mother would let her child have tummy time near a snake hole or put her in charge of this wildlife brigade of enemies turned allies?
We live in a world where neighbors ask the court to decide who must sweep up the autumn leaves that accumulate in shared spaces or who must scoop the poop of each other’s pets. Fender benders lead to screaming matches, punches are thrown at little league games, miscommunication begets gun violence. We don’t trust each other, we don’t completely trust ourselves, and our burgeoning paranoia makes it difficult to see beyond 24-hour news cycles that reinforce our worst fears.
It is terribly hard to be peaceful when everything is a threat. We are not good allies and collaborators when we are afraid.
Some of the most horrible things human beings have done to each other throughout history have been done in the name of faith. Never mind that those of us who call ourselves Christians follow one who, in the totality of his ministry called us time and time again to peace and to reconciliation.
From time to time, we talk a good game. We elect a president of color and declare our nation collectively “post-racial” only to find how deeply, disturbingly racism still runs through the fabric of this country.
At an international level, we have made progress in recognizing the causes of and necessary corrective measures for climate change. Closer to home, leaders in high elected offices dismiss the science of our collective responsibility but accept donations from the worst polluters. Make no mistake, at this point denial of climate change amounts to an act of aggression against our poorest sisters and brothers who are already feeling its affects.
Reading Isaiah’s poetic and prophetic world view given how the last year, in particular, has unfolded in our country, you wonder how we got here and if we can ever leave. Some of us are so entrenched in our enmity that we seem to prefer mutually assured destruction over peaceful coexistence. Are we even capable of following the example of that unexpected menagerie and the precious child in charge?
Here’s the thing – we have. Not seamlessly. No perfectly. But we have. In wars of oppression and aggression, there has been an underground, a resistance. Throughout history, there have been people who spoke truth to power, who protected the vulnerable, who turned the tide of limitations and hate. Just in the last century, there were those who hid and protected Jews during World War II. Martin Luther King and his allies led a movement that transcended race, gender, denomination, and class. Mandela saw apartheid end. The saints and martyrs lived as examples to us all.
Of course it’s not easy. Isaiah doesn’t offer us a shortcut, but he does offer us a map. The path is marked with wisdom and understanding, with righteousness toward the poor and equity for the meek. But it doesn’t have to be all noble and global – imagine the change we begin in our daily lives with a return to kindness and civility.
Peace requires deep, thoughtful, consistent consideration. In this season of Advent, perhaps we can work to put aside fear and move toward a world view defined not by our enemies but by equally beloved creatures of God. And with that knowledge, hurt and destruction begin to cease.