This guest post is by Jill Crainshaw.
A shoot shall come out of the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots…
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.
from Isaiah 11:1-10.
Reading this text after scrolling through my newsfeed’s local and global headlines of ongoing incidents of distrust, rage, and violence, I wonder: how does this zootopia the ancient book of Isaiah describes work anyway? Can basic wilderness instincts change so that neither animals nor humans will hurt or destroy each other or the earth on God’s mountain? Where in these uncertain days is this life-generating mountain of Isaiah’s and the peace-loving creatures and people who dwell there? I can’t find it with my GPS, and I want to travel there, run like the wind to get there as soon as possible. I want to make a home there. I want to rub my hand without fear over a bear’s grizzled fur and live with all of my sisters and brothers in peace.
So we listen to this week’s lectionary reading for the Second Sunday of Advent and light the Advent candle of peace. Then we wait—since waiting is Advent’s most familiar theme song. We wait for this promised mountaintop haven of peculiar peace to become life as usual. But waiting is not enough any longer. Too many lives are at risk in our towns and neighborhoods. Violence rips heart and breath out of too many people each day across the globe. The blood of rage and war flows through too many of our world’s streets. Too much of life as usual is life as fear and fighting and oppression. We cannot wait. We need peace now.
But what are we to do? Isaiah’s serene picture of wolves and lambs napping together? It seems that even some Christians are so suspicious of, defensive about and even enraged by each other’s theological perspectives and political stances we can’t relax into a Sunday afternoon nap in the same room. And if we do nap together, we’ll nap with one eye open, just in case. Maybe that’s what the lambs on Isaiah’s mountain do too. After all…
But that kind of winter-ground cynicism won’t change the world. If we want peace, Isaiah says, we should follow a little child. A child? The one who just put her hand mere inches away from a viper’s venom? Hmm…
Perhaps instead of being cynical, we need to be as tenacious in seeking and living out peace as Isaiah’s tender shoot is in springing to life out of a cut-off stump.
A stump. Discarded. Discounted. That is all many of us see. Just an axed-off tree. That is all many of us see in our own life situations. We too often see even other people and places as too far gone to count for much. But in Isaiah’s absurd peace-land? That stump is a birthing place for an even more absurd newness of life. That stump is a cradle for God’s life-giving, injustice-ending, peace-producing Wisdom. That stump is a gathering place around which all of God’s beloved children—all—can break bread together and know reverence and awe for the earth and each other that is beyond human understanding.
Our voices ache from crying out
through smoke-smothered forests.
The haze of snow globe
panoramas taunts our eyes–
wolves and lambs napping together;
Calf and lion—
wild and domestic
kicking up their heels in shared fields;
Cows and bears nose to nose
munching grass honeyed by morning dew;
a baby in a manger?
Kings bowing down in a barn
while sheep chew their cud?
Where in the arrogant snarls
of a carnivorous world
can we find these wise ones?
Guide us, God-child,
to your Advent arboretum,
and teach us how to refute
the death-dealing certainties of the axe.
Touch with your healing hand
what is raw, neglected,
discarded, dying in our souls;
untame our spirits;
stir undomesticated courage,
in inner wasteland places;
And make our hearts a cotyledon
of your improbable peace. Amen.
About Jill Crainshaw
Jill Crainshaw is a PCUSA minister and Blackburn Professor of Worship and Liturgical Theology at Wake Forest University School of Divinity. She is the author of several books on worship and ministry.