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Advent Peace

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

Nineteenth-century American artist Edward Hicks loved that vision so much that he painted it more than 100 times: The Peaceable Kingdom. I’m sure you’ve seen it. The animals are all there: wolf and lamb, leopard and kid, calf and lion. Hicks gave all the animals expressive faces that look a little human. The eyes are big, wide open, as if they’ve just been startled by something. In fact, that was the artist’s point: this vision is not something one sees every day—or ever.

Woody Allen observed once that when the calf and the lion lie down together, the calf isn’t going to get much sleep. Those animals, of course, are natural adversaries. It’s not that they don’t like one another. It’s just how they are made. Wolves, leopards, and lions need protein. Lambs, kids, and calves are protein. It is a startling reorganization of creation. And the little child is in the midst of them.

The yearning for peace is timeless and universal. All people want peace for themselves and their children. It is a longing that is deep within the human heart.

It is also one of the great themes of the Bible in both Old and New Testaments. At the birth of Jesus, an angel chorus sings about peace on earth. Jesus tells his disciples that when they enter a house they should say a blessing, “Peace be to this house.” The first thing the risen Christ said to his disciples when he appeared in their midst was “Peace be with you.” And when the first Christians worshiped, they “passed the peace,” repeating the words of the risen Lord as they embraced or shook hands: “Peace be with you.”

The sad fact is that there has never been a time when there wasn’t a war happening somewhere in the world. Woody Allen seems closer to reality than Isaiah. In December 2017 peace seems remote. Christians have always had to live in the tension between Isaiah’s peaceable kingdom and the real world, between Jesus’ teaching about peaceful nonviolence and a world where nations invade neighbors and where cruelty is just beneath the surface. We live in the tension between the yearning for peace, the Peaceable Kingdom, the Peace of Jesus Christ, and the reality of the world. And we need, perhaps more than ever, to wait and watch for signs of peace.

I saw some signs of hope this week. I saw a child leading, a child with a significant challenge—Down syndrome; Anna, 10-year-old daughter of a friend, struggling to keep up, nothing is easy for her. Amazingly, she has transformed a class of noisy, lively preadolescents into caring and kind friends, who planned a surprise birthday party for her and sang “Happy Birthday” to her — and each brought a small birthday present, and each has been taught something important about caring and love, and later, I am sure, about justice and kindness and peace.

It is Advent and the child is coming.

Frederick Buechner wrote,

“The kingdom of God is so close we can almost reach out our hands and touch it. It is so close that sometimes it almost reaches out and takes us by the hand. . . . All over the world you can hear it stirring, if you stop to listen. Good things are happening in and through all sorts of people. . . . Tolerance, Compassion, Sanity, Hope, Justice.”

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.



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