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December 5, 2004 (Advent II)—“When the Wolf and the Lamb Lie Down Together”
Pastor David Barber
Isaiah 11:1-10; Matthew 3:1-12
Sisters and brothers, grace be unto you and peace from God our loving Creator and from our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
Blackie shivered in the cold winter wind. His pelt was not as dense as it used to be. When he was younger Blackie's fur was thick and luxurious and black as the midnight sky.
He had hunter's eyes which flashed with the brilliance of a thousand stars. In fact, his eyes were almost as bright as the star he saw passing in the night.
But now, Blackie's coat was gray, and his eyes were as milky as the clouded objects that held his gaze. His once powerful muscles hung loosely and his stiff joints ached with each difficult step.
There had been more wolves in Blackie's clan--some stronger and younger, but the shepherds had caught and killed most of them. And now Blackie was alone. He was old. He was tired, and he was very hungry.
From a distance, he stalked the sleeping flocks. He was hoping to spot a lamb that had wandered away, or a ewe who had just given birth, or a helplessly blind old ram.
The last time Blackie had chased a stray lamb, it had eluded him before he could catch it. He had been reduced to eating dead animals from which he frightened away the vultures with a menacing growl... But if he didn't find something to eat soon, it wouldn't be long before they were feeding on his flesh.
And so Blackie stalked. He crept closer in the night shadows. He had to be careful--very, very careful--because the shepherds were both wolf-smart and watchful.
But then as Blackie was resting in the shadows planning his next move, an amazing thing happened. A star passed directly overhead. It left a trail of blazing light, and the heaven was filled with music.
The shepherds just stood there staring at the star. They were petrified--frozen in time--not moving a muscle, but then, one by one, they rose and followed the star in the direction of a nearby town.
What? What was this--a new trap? Was this a new trick that had never been used before? The gate to the sheepfold had been left completely open, and there was nothing--nothing at all--between him and all those sheep. There were no shepherds and no stones or arrows to stop him.
So Blackie struggled to his feet as quickly as he could. But wait! He must be careful. It maybe a trap, and besides most of the sheep could now run faster than he could. So using all the stealth he could muster, he crouched and pulled himself along on all fours, slowing creeping ever closer to the sleeping flock.
As Blackie came closer to his prey, he stood erect and prepared to attack. But just before attack, he glanced up once more at the night sky and he saw that star. A strange feeling came over him. Was it expectancy--or weariness--or reluctance--or even peacefulness? He was uncertain.
Whatever it was, Blackie yawned a great wolf yawn, and he thought, "Perhaps I'm not so hungry after all. A nap would be nice." So he eased his weary haunches down into the hard soil of the sheep pen, and he lay down very close to a warm, sleeping lamb.
And the lamb stirred. Opening just one eye, he looked up at Blackie. Then he turned and went back to sleep, unafraid.
Side by side, the wolf and the lamb slept together, and they dreamed about a great and beautiful light that grew and grew until its brilliance and warmth flooded the whole earth.
"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."
Last week and this week from the book of Isaiah we have some of the most beautiful words and the most wonderful vision in all of Scripture, and how we yearn that it might become a reality.
How we yearn for Palestinians and Jews to eat together, for Iraqis and Americans to lie down in safety, and for the poor and hungry to be filled and satisfied.
How we long for a creation that experiences the "aloha" of God, for families where there is no violence and abuse, and for the whole world, animals and humans alike of every race and tribe to be at peace with one another. How we hope and dream for this!
Is this vision from Isaiah just a hopeless pipe dream? Is it simply the stuff out of which good fairy-tales are created and we can send our children off to sleep with pleasant dreams?
Or is there something greater than we can imagine germinating within us and within all of creation that will eventually erupt with all sorts of creative possibilities?
This is the Season of Advent and we prepare for the Christ child. Therefore, we need to be ready and open for the power of God to work something new when we as communities or individuals see no possibilities.
And when we live out these new possibilities in our daily living, we are actually bearing the fruit of repentance to which John the Baptist calls us this morning. Through our repentance we live into and grow into this awesome and amazing vision that Isaiah paints for us this morning--a vision that most certainly can become a reality.
A couple of weeks ago we had friends from Arizona that visited us over Thanksgiving. And so Karen and I played tour guide, which was actually a good break for the two of us as well.
Twenty years ago when we were here on vacation we had visited Pearl Harbor, but since living in Honolulu, we hadn't made the trip to the Arizona Memorial until two weeks ago with our friends.
Once again it was a sobering moment for me. It was an opportunity to pause and reflect on the many men whose lives and future were brutally taken away and, as well, the cost and the price of war. This is sometimes referred to as the "price of freedom," and perhaps it is, but I wonder why we can't ever find a better way.
But then I also thought how bitter enemies, seeking to destroy one another, had become friends and allies. If someone had said on December 7, 1941, or even after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that someday Japanese and Americans would be at peace and sit down together and be driving Japanese cars in abundance, who would have believed them?
And we've seen marvelous glimpses of the inbreaking of God's reign in other places as well. No one thought that the bitter bondage of apartheid would ever be lifted, but it was, and South Africa is a much stronger and better nation as a result of its demise.
Unfortunately, for every place where we see a beacon of light and hope, you can hold up many other places where the shadow of darkness continues to loom heavy over the land.
You could point to Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine--the place where the Prince of Peace was born, and to numerous other places and situations about which we sing, "Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel" and ransom all those held captive by the bondage of darkness and death.
As we look at these situations, which seem to far outnumber those places where there is peace and justice and understanding, it's easy to become disheartened and disillusioned. It's easy to respond to Isaiah by saying, "Nice fantasy, Isaiah, but it's never going to happen."
But I ask, why not? Why isn't the vision of Isaiah held up as the "real world" and the reality that God desires for all of creation? And if this is what God desires and what God brings to pass through Jesus Christ, then our repentance in this Season of Advent asks us to lean into and grow into this reality.
The "real world" in which you and I live is not the world where death and darkness reign and we destroy the precious creation of God with our words and our actions.
The "real world" is a world of peace and justice, love and forgiveness, and where the wolf and the lamb lie down together. If this vision is held up as the "real world," will we not do all that we can to partner with God so that Jesus Christ will come and be born in every dark corner of the earth?
When I was at Pearl Harbor and thought about the great cost of war, I asked myself, what would happen if we expended as much energy, and time, and resources in the pursuit of peace?
I'm not so na´ve as to believe that all will be instantly well in our world, but what we're doing now isn't working. Will we not try something new? Will we not try to model our lives by the vision of Isaiah because we're afraid of what might happen to us if we try a different and more faithful path?
In the baptismal service this morning, we will pray these words for Sophia Stark: "Pour your Holy Spirit upon Sophia: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, the spirit of joy in your presence."
This morning these same words were spoken by the prophet Isaiah in regard to the coming Messiah. What does this mean for Sophia and for us?
It means, that through our baptism, the same Spirit that descended upon Jesus continues to descend upon us as well--giving to us the same gifts as the promised Messiah. This is who we are, and we do the work of the Messiah and all that Isaiah envisioned for the coming One.
Through our baptism our lives, too, are dedicated to the mission of the Prince of Peace so that the wolf will live with the lamb, that we will not hurt or destroy one another, and where the whole earth will be filled with God's righteousness and God's peace.
In this Season of Advent, this is why John calls us to repentance so that we might more fully prepare for and live the vision of Isaiah. In so doing the Christ Child will be born in our lives and wherever people and creation cry out for hope and healing.
Copyright © 2004 David Barber
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