Vision of Peace
Category : Reflections
A reflection given at Holladay United Church of Christ on December 4, 2016 (Second Sunday of Advent)
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. 2The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. 3His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; 4but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. 5Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. 6The 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. 7The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. 9They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
10On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious. – Isaiah 11:1-10
– Matthew 3:1-12
The prophet Isaiah – like most of the biblical prophets – was a poet. A visionary, sometimes critical, subversive poet. This particular poetic vision starts small (a shoot coming up from the stump of a royal family tree), and ends big (a whole new peaceful creation). It is a bold work of art.
Like many poems, I don’t think this was ever intended to be taken literally. It is more evocative than definitive. From what I know of ecology, it would not be a good thing if animal predators stopped killing prey. But it does give us a vision of peace. It is poetry that makes us look at our own divisions, fears, stereotypes, and enemies. God’s new creation is one in which we have no more enemies.
How can we make such a vision of peace a reality? Isaiah’s description of a righteous king or a messiah made me think about those people in our world today who seem to embody peace. Some of them are Christian; others are not. People like the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Pope Francis. Thich Nhat Hanh. People are naturally attracted to them because they have… something. John the Baptist may have had that something. I am sure that Jesus had it as well – perhaps more than any person who has ever lived: A deep connection to something greater than themselves — God, Spirit, mindfulness, humility based in a realistic knowledge of who they are. Deep peace.
It is impressive to meet people like that. Can we become like that? I would think that we can, if we devote a lifetime to it, although it is a challenge to do while holding down a job as a teacher or nurse or accountant. But maybe we can make a little progress towards that kind of inner peace. Because I believe that creating peace in this violent world begins with finding peace in ourselves: peace with God; peace with ourselves; peace with loved ones.
I think many, if not most people have brief moments in their life of connection to a deeper reality – mystical experiences – although we rarely talk about them with others. And they are sporadic and brief things – not something that we can hold onto or recreate, though their memory may stay with us for a lifetime and change us in profound ways.
We can remember those experiences of peace and connection — or open ourselves to them — through spiritual practices like prayer and meditation. I also think it helps to find ways to get perspective on our human situation. Our daily lives are filled with crises, and the evening news inundates us with more crises from around the world. It can help to remember what astronauts discover while orbiting the earth – that we are little parts of a beautiful planet without borders. It can help to remember what historians and cosmologists and biologists and geologists know – that the human story is only a small part of the history of the universe; that death is a part of life; that the human race is only a small part of life on earth; and humans have a long and sad history of violence and injustice against one another. We are not likely to end it quickly with a new law or by invading violent countries. And if we aren’t careful, we may cause as much or more damage than we prevent.
In order for a new creation to come into being, we need to be new creations ourselves. John the Baptist called people to repent. That invitation has gotten many negative connotations over the centuries – becoming for some a judgmental imperative to give up all things fun or pleasurable. But it is, instead, an offer to become new people – filled with that spirit of which Isaiah spoke: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and a respect for what is good and true and holy.
Christians have used the metaphors of Christ living within us; of being baptized with the Holy Spirit. We need divine help that moves us from selfishness to relationship and community.
We find peace with God when we believe that we are not God’s enemies, but beloved. The coming of God to be among us in Jesus is one way we have seen Deep Reality reaching out to us to offer a new way of living – even inviting us to be coworkers in bringing a peaceful new creation into being.
We find peace with ourselves when we know the truth about ourselves – that we are precious and gifted and beautiful, but we also are prone to doing foolish things. We cannot make peace on our own; we need that “fear of the Lord” (which means deepest respect for Ultimate Goodness, Power and Love and Grace).
The peace that God offers us is peace that refuses to make anyone an enemy — even people who vote differently than we, or who threaten us with harm. Divine peace is not just “Don’t worry – be happy,” but a willingness to confront those who do wrong with loving resistance. That is our challenge in these dangerous times.
Do we truly want peace in our lives and in our world? Do we want a whole new creation? Repent. It’s hard to embrace a new creation when we are heavily invested and comfortable in the old. Nurture peace in yourself. Be peace that insists on what is right without resorting to violence to achieve it. It is challenging, frustrating, dangerous work. Indeed, I believe it is beyond our purely human ability to achieve. We need divine help. We need a Savior (to save us from ourselves); we need a Prince (or Princess) of Peace.
Robert J. von Trebra