A shoot from Jesse’s stump
11 A shoot will grow up from the stump of Jesse;
a branch will sprout from his roots.
2 The Lord’s spirit will rest upon him,
a spirit of wisdom and understanding,
a spirit of planning and strength,
a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord.
3 He will delight in fearing the Lord.
He won’t judge by appearances,
nor decide by hearsay.
4 He will judge the needy with righteousness,
and decide with equity for those who suffer in the land.
He will strike the violent with the rod of his mouth;
by the breath of his lips he will kill the wicked.
5 Righteousness will be the belt around his hips,
and faithfulness the belt around his waist.
6 The wolf will live with the lamb,
and the leopard will lie down with the young goat;
the calf and the young lion will feed together,
and a little child will lead them.
7 The cow and the bear will graze.
Their young will lie down together,
and a lion will eat straw like an ox.
8 A nursing child will play over the snake’s hole;
toddlers will reach right over the serpent’s den.
9 They won’t harm or destroy anywhere on my holy mountain.
The earth will surely be filled with the knowledge of the Lord,
just as the water covers the sea.
A signal to the peoples
10 On that day, the root of Jesse will stand as a signal to the peoples. The nations will seek him out, and his dwelling will be glorious.
Thoughts on the passage:
How do you define peace? What is the opposite of peace? Is it war, chaos, busyness, conflict? Martin Luther King Jr. famously said that “Peace is not the absence of tension but the presence of justice.” There are lots of ways to think about peace. You can think of it simply in terms of whether or not there is conflict or you can think about it as something more, a positive expression of something rather than simply the lack of something else.
Finding peace is a common theme in religious traditions. Several Eastern religions talk about an inner peace. In Buddhism, there is the concept of nirvana, which translates as “no wind.” The question is how is that peace created. Is peace simply the absence of wind, of change, of tension, or is it something more. In the Christian faith, we believe that peace is not merely the absence of conflict, but the presence of God.
It is not hard to think about how we need peace in the world right now. Every day people are dying in Syria during the ongoing war: we need peace. ISIS continues to find ways to attack, whether it is within their territories in Iraq and Syria or through terrorist around the world: we need peace. Looking beyond physical conflict there is still a need for peace. Our nation is deeply divided and needs peace. Even in our own lives we need it, even if it is just a quiet moment to pause in the midst of crazy hectic lives. I know I need that kind of peace.
It is possible to achieve temporary peace by just pausing. In a war, we call this a cease fire. In our own lives, it might be a night out, or simply achieved by ignoring for a bit the pile of dishes that need to be done. Regardless, it is not a lasting peace and not what we really need. While necessary at times, sometimes a temporary peace can undermine true peace that is needed. Think about the Korean War. On the one hand, it has been over for sixty years but on the other hand, it is still going on. The end to open conflict has not stopped the tension that exists in that divided nation. What they need is a true peace.
Obviously, the answer to all of this is Jesus, the prince of peace. What kind of peace does Christ offer to us? Last week we talked about turning swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. This week we see a different image of the blessed kingdom. Here we see animals that are normally enemies lying down in peace together. It is a powerful scene and gives us something to hope for. This peace is not achieved by ignoring differences and settling for a cease fire. Instead it is achieved through transformation. The peace that is offered in Christ comes through transformation.
In the Blessed Kingdom, peace is achieved but it requires some changes as well. The lion and the calf eat together, but this first requires the lion to eat straw like the ox. Veterinarians and nutrients will tell you that to get a lion to eat straw you will need change. It is not enough to just give a lion straw, in order to eat it and be healthy a lot would need to change. A lion is not naturally equipped to chew straw, to digest straw, or to get the nutrients it needs from straw. For this to work the lion must be transformed. Peace cannot happen if we are not willing to be transformed.
The world needs peace, not something that is temporary or is merely the absence of current conflict, but a lasting peace that only God can offer. As we prepare for Christmas we need to think about the ways that we want our lives transformed so that peace might occur. Peace will not come merely by setting aside our problems or taking a live and let live philosophy. Peace comes when we open our hearts and lives that Christ might enter in and transform them.
Pause and look at your life right now. Where do you experience conflict, tension and stress? Where do you need God’s peace to enter in? Now, as your think about those parts of your life, how are you willing to let God transform you so that peace might occur. Maybe it is being transformed so that you do not always need to win and be right. Maybe it is being transformed so that you can stand up for your needs rather than always giving in to avoid conflict. Isaiah reminds us that through the presence of Christ that sort of transformation is possible. Let us prepare our hearts for the Prince of Peace who ushers in a transformation for the whole world.
Questions to Ponder:
What does peace mean to you?
Who is someone you know who exemplifies the peace you long for?
What does God need to transform in your life that you might find peace this Christmas season?
God, be with us in this Advent season. May your spirit rest upon us that we might know your peace. Open up our hearts and lives and transform them that we might know your grace. Walk alongside us and help us to bring about your peace in the world as well. Amen