In the midst of this week’s lectionary passage from Isaiah, 11:1-10, things get a little strange. The carnivores have all become vegetarian and a child wanders among the big cats and the big prey and the reptile dens in a way that no conscientious parent would approve: “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” (Isaiah 11:6).
The peaceable kingdom is all well and good for a folk art painting, but imagining it happening in the real world—with real animals that have real teeth, fangs, and hooves—just makes me anxious. “This is not going to end well,” I think to myself. “This isn’t possible in the world as we know it.”
Which, of course, is the point. This peace, God’s peace, the peace we prepare for, long for, or at least try to envision during Advent, isn’t peace as the world typically gives. It isn’t an uneasy truce. It isn’t the silencing of dissent. This peace doesn’t arise from the helpless acceptance of the terms mandated by the victor over the conquered. God’s peace comes from radical transformation, an utter reordering of what we’ve come to see as the normal course of things.
What we’re preparing for during Advent is to have our world turned upside down.
It’s unsettling, this peace. But also profoundly hopeful: A stump—for the prophet, the dead and disappointing legacy of past rulers—sends out a green shoot, as slender and delicate as a newborn infant’s pinky finger, yet promising great things. A ruler emerges who is not controlled by poll numbers or lobbyist dollars, but by deeply felt fear and wonder toward a living God. That ruler is gifted with wisdom, insight, and discernment, offering compassion and fair-minded equity for the poor and the meek (and swift, brutal justice for the wicked, a disconcerting note amid all the holy awe, mercy-laced justice, and purring lions).We await a tender shoot this Advent, one that bears strange and transforming peace. What is the impossible possibility you are longing for?