This week as we continue our “We Have Gifts to Open” Advent worship series, we’ll open “The Gift of Peace” and examine together the biblical vision for peace and what that means for us today as people of faith.
To help us do this, the scripture for this week paints a powerful image of a peaceable kingdom — a wolf living with a lamb, a leopard lying down with a young goat, a calf and a young lion feeding together, and a little child leading them. What an image! But it doesn’t end there — a cow and a bear grazing together, the calves and the cubs lying down together, and a lion eating straw like an ox. What strange and wonderful images! How about this one? “A nursing child will play over the snake’s hole; toddlers will reach right over the serpent’s den.” All of these images are surprising. Rather than the expected conflict and harm — even death — there is the very much unexpected peaceful coexistence and life.
Another image from this passage I want to spend some time on as we open and examine “The Gift of Peace” is the picture of hope we find in the shoot from the stump of the Jesse tree. This, to me, symbolizes our hope for peace and the role we each play in that. You see, I think we are the shoots of hope that appear upon deeply rooted, but damaged, even destroyed ideals of peace. And as these shoots of hope, we are signals to others, as we sing in that familiar song, “Let there be peace on earth — and let it begin with me.”
In what ways can we be peacemakers in our own circles, our own world? How can we reach out over the cobra’s den to make true peace? Isaiah ties this hope with what he calls “the knowledge of the Lord.” He says, “The earth will surely be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, just as the water covers the sea.” Surely this is what the Christ Child would learn and grow up to teach. As he approached Jerusalem for the last time and surveyed all the conflict, injustice, vengeance, and hateful words, he wept and said, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace!”
In painting a vision for peace, the prophets use the tools that God placed in their hands: words. And with that tool they paint a very different picture of peace than the accepted Roman version of Jesus’ day. Rather than using violence to achieve peace — such as the Pax Romana, the 206-year period of peace in Rome hailed as a “miracle” by some, was peace of a sort, but peace enforced with brutality. So the mere absence of conflict is not peace in the fullest sense of the word.
We hold in our hands the same tools the prophets held: words. With those tools we also can paint images of peace that inspire the hard work that peace with justice requires. Edward Hicks, an American Folk painter and distinguished Quaker minister, became widely known because of his paintings. He painted more than 60 versions of “The Peaceable Kingdom” based on Isaiah 11. What picture of peace would you paint?
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster
A shoot will grow up from the stump of Jesse; a branch will sprout from his roots. The Lord’s spirit will rest upon him, a spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of planning and strength, a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord. He will delight in fearing the Lord. He won’t judge by appearances, nor decide by hearsay. He will judge the needy with righteousness, and decide with equity for those who suffer in the land. He will strike the violent with the rod of his mouth; by the breath of his lips he will kill the wicked. Righteousness will be the belt around his hips, and faithfulness the belt around his waist. The wolf will live with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the young goat; the calf and the young lion will feed together, and a little child will lead them. The cow and the bear will graze. Their young will lie down together, and a lion will eat straw like an ox. A nursing child will play over the snake’s hole; toddlers will reach right over the serpent’s den. They won’t harm or destroy anywhere on my holy mountain. The earth will surely be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, just as the water covers the sea. On that day, the root of Jesse will stand as a signal to the peoples. The nations will seek him out, and his dwelling will be glorious. On that day, the Lord will extend his hand a second time to reclaim the survivors of God’s people who are left from Assyria and from Egypt, from Pathros, Cush, Elam, Shinar, Hamath, and from the coastlands of the sea.