Second Sunday of Advent
Today’s Old Testament reading from Isaiah includes the famous, “Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them.” In the second reading, St. Paul highlights the responsibility of Christians to “think in harmony” and to show God’s truthfulness (as well as endurance and encouragement) in the world. In the Gospel of Matthew we hear the tough John the Baptist (who, while in the desert, ate only locusts and wild honey!) indicting the “holy” men of his day. Today his words may sound like: “You insulated group of poisonous people" - in stark contrast to the peaceable vipers/adders mentioned by Isaiah – "Repent, today start living lives that produce goodness!" Isaiah, in the first reading, provides a list of what such lives would look like: Wisdom, understanding, counsel, justice, care for the poor, and of course, friendly, non-violent, even playful interactions with those you perceive to be a threat.
The Isaiah text is a dream of an impossible reality, yet its impossibility is alluring and inspiring. “On that day” the text says (twice), acknowledges that the dream will be fulfilled in some distant future. Yet with Christian lens we read that with the birth of Jesus, that dream can be experienced in brief but nonetheless real moments in our lives.
This text from Isaiah was captured famously in Edward Hick’s 1846 painting the “Peaceable Kingdom.” In the front and right section of that piece, Hicks depicts these wild animals with what seems to human facial features. In the left background is a parallel scene showing William Penn signing the 1683 friendship treaty with Native Americans. The truth caught in Hick’s painting is the link between the impossible vision of a child leading a lion and the possible vision of a time in our own lives where there will be “no harm or ruin…for the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord.”
The dream of the “Peaceable Kingdom” with the wild animals and the amoral “food chain” leads to the moral challenge of the “Beloved Community” – characterized by harmony, endurance, encouragement, wisdom, understanding, counsel, justice, and care for the poor.
Bernard Brady, Professor and Chair, Department of Theology