“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.” (Isaiah 11: 6 -9)
I could not help but think of these words from Isaiah as we lit the Advent candle for peace this past Sunday. It is perhaps the most picturesque vision of a peaceful world in all of literature. Perhaps because we are living in such a contentious and divided world, it has become rooted in my heart and mind more this Advent season than ever before.
What is most fascinating about this text is that the Prophet’s Messianic vision has nothing to do with unanimity, or even consensus. He does not foresee a world in which we all become the same. Indeed, precisely the opposite. Isaiah envisioned a world in which opposites live together side by side, a world where natural enemies inhabit the same space, where the “knowledge of the Lord” brings people together in peace rather than enmity and division.
So here is a question I have been pondering: why is it that we hear so much divisive language from people of faith? How is that, as people of faith, we have managed to separate ourselves into the same competing tribal identities that are typical of pagan societies? I think I’ve been guilty of this myself. Who among us has not said, “I just can’t live with this person or these people?” In some ways, it is the natural response that rises from deeply flawed human beings, as we all are. We are passionate about our values and our positions, and sometimes that passion drives us into a kind of uncompromising conviction that others are so wrong we can’t live with them.
The Messianic vision of Isaiah is prompting me to think more deeply about what Peace in our modern world might look like. Could it be that it is precisely what he claims it to be? That we don’t have to change other people in order to live peacefully with them. A vision of the wolf living with the lamb, the leopard lying down with the kid, human beings of different persuasions living together in peace…a little child leading them. That’s a Christmas vision worth pondering.
Rev. Don Underwood