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  • Rev. Diane Curtis

Unlikely Pairings

Isaiah 11:1-10

New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition

11 A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. 2 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. 3 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, 4 but with righteousness he shall judge for the poor and decide with equity for the oppressed 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. 5 Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

6 The wolf shall live with the lamb; the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the lion will feed together, and a little child shall lead them. 7 The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. 9 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.

10 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.

One of the most well-known scripture passages about love is 1 Corinthians 13. The words are so poignant that it is often read at weddings as a reminder to the couple and the congregation of the attributes exemplified by love

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable; it keeps no record of wrongs; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

The text promises us that love never ends. God’s love never ends. All that we think important as expressions of our relationships and our faith will cease when God’s love is fully expressed at some point in the future.

Love is the foundation of life. Advent brings us again to this truth. God’s love is the source of hope, peace, and joy. That love is most fully expressed in God’s gift of Jesus, the Savior of the world.

Today’s iconic text from Isaiah is one of the most familiar of the Advent readings. Although usually read on the first Sunday of Advent, I chose it for today because I think it embodies the impact of God’s love in the world today and what the full expression of love will look like when Christ returns. You might think of this passage as the ongoing chorus of Christmas that we hear year after year to remind us of and imprint upon us of who the Savior of the world is; his root.

The scene described here in Isaiah is often referred to as the peaceable kingdom. The images of wolves and lambs living together, leopards lying down with goats, lions feeding with calves, cows and bears grazing together, lions eating straw, and children playing with deadly snakes portrays a scenario unimaginable in the world as we know it.

American painter Edward Hicks, a Quaker, was so enthralled with and moved by this image that he painted vividly colored depictions of it numerous times – 62 versions survive. Leanne Van Dyk recounts that John Buchanan notices that Hicks portrays the animals looking straight ahead at the viewer with wide-eyed wonder. Buchanan says:

“Peace is startling. You don’t see it often, maybe ever. In the middle of the picture is a child…with eyes wide open as if startled by this unlikely reality.”

The peaceable kingdom paints a picture of God’s promise and plan for the harmony of all creation. The promise that God’s unlimited love is shown to all at all times and in all places. At the consummation of the world, when Christ returns, all creation will live in harmony with God forever.

This image of the peaceable kingdom expresses a great hope for that future, a hope born in love, for justice for all, good order among all creation, well-being for all, and especially for those who are the most vulnerable. The ones who are easily forgotten or ignored.

In short, this image describes a world turned upside down. A world so different from our current experience that we have trouble imagining what it could possibly look like. The new world is supposed to be different, intended to be different. If we expected eternity to be like things are today, we would throw in the towel. I don’t want to continue to live in this grimy world of pain and grief with slivers of happiness breaking through from time to time but not often enough.

The passage reminds us that God will indeed come. God will come in love bringing hope, peace, and joy to every heart. God will judge the poor with righteousness, will treat everyone fairly, and will bring evil and wickedness to an end. God will reign forever. A glorious picture of God’s forever presence.

We will be a part of that picture of harmony. The animals of all kinds living together and we as the little children unafraid of sticking our hand in an adder’s den. In God’s kingdom of harmony all belong and all get along.

Hicks often included in his paintings of the “Peaceable Kingdom” an image off to the side of a contemporary scene. Most often it was an image of William Penn and his associates making a peace treaty with Native Americans (indigenous people). The first example in Hick’s mind of peacemaking. Of course, today we understand that those treaties didn’t end up creating a good outcome for those indigenous people. However, in Hicks’ time, it was a huge step forward for white people to be willing to even acknowledge the need to engage in a treaty.

That side image of William Penn is, I think, intended to demonstrate the work of the peaceable kingdom in our time. We aren’t meant to wait until the kingdom is fully established when Christ returns. Rather, God’s peaceable kingdom is happening right now. We can be instruments of God’s peace and love in our world today.

This image of the peaceable kingdom casts a vision of Isaiah’s promise of the shining light to come. A promise being realized today and a promise for the future’s full realization. It is a promise of a new creation that spills into our world. We can look out at the world and easily see how God’s peacefulness would be welcome and would change people’s lives. The peace born out of God’s love shines in the darkness and can truly change the world in the here and now.

While waiting for God in Christ to return in glory, our job is to point to, work for, shout out, and claim the reign of God now. We come to worship the living God. We come to learn more about Jesus Christ. We come to be sent out to proclaim the message of the gift of God given to all the world to change people’s lives.

Advent is the signpost that directs us to the vision of God’s kingdom; to Jesus Christ as the one through whom the kingdom is and will be established. The sign of Advent is meant to call us to turn ourselves to look at God’s gift of his Son and to the new life he brings.

David Davis tells the story of visiting Grand Teton National Park with his wife. Not long after they passed through the entrance gate that they came upon a park ranger standing in the middle of the road wearing one of those yellow vests pointing excitedly to his left. Davis stopped the car and rolled down the window. The ranger told them to look at where he was pointing. Turning, they saw a moose taking a bath in a nearby pond. Without the ranger’s direction to look, Davis and his wife would have missed the scene entirely, a scene they would remember forever.

This is what Advent is about: pointing us to the one thing we will remember forever. Pointing us to the birth of Jesus Christ, the baby in the manger, who came to change lives. Who came as the gift of God for the present and for the future. Advent reminds us again that love has come in the person of Jesus Christ.

As we are reminded in 1 Corinthians, faith, hope, and love remain, but love is the greatest of these.


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