Excerpted from Cultivating Care for Creation, an Advent Guide for Lectionary Year A from the North Carolina 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.
Through deeply ecological imagery, Isaiah tells us what peace and the peaceable kingdom will look like when it arrives.
We learn that peace will mean the gentle cohabitation of predator and prey as wolves “shall live with lambs.” We learn peace will mean nursing children playing and laughing among snakes’ dens. We learn peace will mean life without destruction as even our eating patterns will no longer require death. “The bear shall graze” while “the lion shall eat straw like an ox.”
Biblical scholars regularly point out that in God’s ordering of creation, humans exist within the ecosystem. This vision of peace described by Isaiah is a vision for all of God’s Creation—both human and non-human. The whole world is held in this imagining. We are a part of this vision.
What does that mean for us, the humans?
Clearly, we are not living at peace with our world today. Some say peace is unattainable and this kind of flourishing is beyond our ability. After all, in order to live our lives today, entire forests are being cleared to make room for livestock. Entire mountain ranges are blown to bits to find coal. Waterways are degraded with the toxicities of industry, poisoning people and aquatic species alike.
We are quick to point out there are no alternatives, that this way of death is the only way. In some cases it is the only thing we know. But the Christ child, the Messiah, offers us another way—the way of peace, the way of justice, the way of life.
May the promise of the Messiah in this passage remind us of God’s ability, always, to do a new thing. In the Christ child, through the incarnation, God becomes a part of our world with all its death dealing ways in order to show us the way to life. In God’s vulnerability we are given the Holy Child, and with this child the promise of justice and peace awakens.
Friends, the promise of peace and justice is a promise for the created order in its entirety. We must live into the realization of that promise. We must advocate for our world as a whole, trusting that God is doing a new thing in us—that the way of death is not the only way.
“And a little child shall lead them.”