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Anticipation of a Peaceable Kin-dom

Advent 2 Common Lectionary Year A

Isaiah 11:1-10

©2016 Rev Elisabeth R. Jones

It seems that every ancient text
we have been reading these recent weeks
could have been written just for us,
just for this time in our global life.
And this week is no exception.
This vision of the ideal ruler,
Spirit-filled with better than human wisdom,
who will render justice for the poor,
and equity for the meek,
and under whose benign, wise rule,
the earth itself,
and all its creatures will live in peace.

If God is in heaven and all is right with the world,
if God’s Dream is to be more than a mere dream,
then isn’t this a reasonable attainable, justifiable
political vision, much needed
if the planet is to survive and thrive as the arena
of God’s blessing?

I realize that I stand here this morning,
more than a little worn down by the eruptions
of racism, bigotry and fear the world over.
I’m losing hope in geopolitical futures,
ecological futures,
even church futures.
I’m wearied by failures of leadership,
be that global, national, local,
and yes, even my own,
all falling guilty of selling out
wisdom, fidelity and righteousness,
to expedience.
My sin is cynicism, and its twin is despair.
I am alarmed at how easy it can
be to lose faith in this vision, any vision
of a better alternative.
I don’t think I’m alone.

I wonder if Isaiah suffered from the same
sin of cynicism?
Did he look at the Assyrian threat to his people,
did he gaze incredulous at the
fickle flip-flopping of his king,

at the willful ignorance or indifference
of his fellow citizens of Judah,
and despair?
Did he decide to hunker down
behind the pillars of the temple,
trim the wicks,
sweep the pigeon feathers off the sacrificial altar,
get mystically religious,
and hope the world would turn around by itself,
and without his participation in its turning?

While I want Isaiah to pat me on the head conspiratorially
and nod his confession too
to these failures of conviction
and temptations to cynicism, I’m on my own.
Isaiah’s magnificent work suggests otherwise.
And I am grateful that this prophet
is wiser than me,
more resistant to despair,
more attuned to the mysteries of the Holy,
and therefore more capable
of inspiring your hope and faith
than I could manage without his help
this morning.
There’s a feisty, political,
poetic resistance at work in this text,
crafted oh so carefully!
Drawing us in from that initial wistful political thinking,
and pointing us upward
beyond ourselves towards something far bigger
than we can ask or imagine.

Let me show you what I mean.
Close your eyes and fill your imagination
with images of the words I’m about to read again:

“The wolf shall lie with the lamb,
the leopard with the kid of a goat,
calf and lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.”

Okay open your eyes…. see?!

This painting, and this, and this
help us to see that Isaiah is not a speech writer
for a political agenda,
but a Dream Weaver for the Holy One!
This is a word-vision he gives us!
An anticipation, an expectation
beyond the naturally possible,
beyond the logic of the brain,
beyond the grey clouds of cynicism,
that draw us, syllable by syllable,
into the sacred realm of holy imagination.
Finally comes the poet!
bringing the human soul into communion
with the daring, unreasonable Dream of God,
of a creation, of people
redeemed, reconciled,
and restored to God’s original
intention of peaceableness.

When our ears hurt with the brutal speech
of pettiness, hatred, bickering, fear, jealousy,
when our hopes for a just society are dashed
again and again,
when we discover the depth of our own complicity
in the hurt of others,
when we stand guilty of participation
in the oppression of others
and fall prey to despair,
Isaiah comes with a
beautiful, good, healing balm
for our battered ears, and eyes,
and heart and soul.

“The cow and the bear graze,
their young at play together,
the nursing child plays over the snake’s den
and they shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be full of the glory of God
as the waters cover the sea!”

We lean into it – I do,
we hang on to the words,
we roll them around on our own tongue,
until finally a tiny shoot shoot of possibility,
emerges from the stumps
of the world’s and our own brokenness.
Despite ourselves, we ask,
we wonder….. if it
some part of it,
a tiny shoot of all this
were to come true?

This poem,
the recurrent verses of Scripture
thousands of years in the making
all speak again and again
to a Dream of God that will not let us go,
that will not sink us in despair,
but tie our heartstrings to
God’s own holy expectation,
that we,
hearing it, singing it,
speaking it, painting it,
can lift Isaiah’s poem,
God’s Dream,
from the page,
into the heart,
and from the privacy of the soul
into the public arena of our daily lives.

Have you seen?
Have you heard?
Do you know them?
are you one of them?

Ordinary, complex,
flawed, imperfect people,
in every generation
captivated and transfigured by
this unreasonable expectation of a peaceable kingdom.
Where wars, racism, apartheid, colonial oppression,
racial injustice might one day be overcome?

Ordinary, complex, imperfect people
who put on hats and coats
and march to protect rights for refugees.
Who stand protectors to sacred land, and water.
Who pick up and swing a hammer for Habitat.
Who spend countless hours volunteering
at local churches,
hospices, thrift stores, crisis call centres.
Who join together to fill food hampers.
Who still plant lemon trees in occupied territory.
Who still gather in Sudan, Amman, Geneva Kabul, Kiev, Washington to dream, work and forge peace
in places that have known only war for generations.
“Righteousness shall be the belt around their waist and faithfulness will gird their loins.”

Is this not how the vision
of wolf and lamb, of prey and predator
sharing the same manger comes true?
This is surely, and only
the kind of childlike snake-charming hope
that can lift us from the messes
we have made of creation
towards its, and our redemption!

“A tiny shoot from the stump….”
Isaiah said…
An impossible dream
that somehow, heals us, forgives us,
and restores once more in us
the capacity for wonder, anticipation,
as we lay out the crèche,
one more time.
Hoping, against all odds
that a God-child,
an Immanuel,
will be born in us,
we complex, ordinary, imperfect people.

A little child shall lead them.
And so we wait.

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