Isaiah 11: 1 – 10
Psalm 72: 1 – 8
Luke 10: 21 – 24
We’ve probably all seen them somewhere: in a poster shop; at an art gallery; on a book or magazine cover. Depictions of the peaceable kingdom, as this passage from Isaiah is often called, are popular among artists and illustrators from a variety of traditions. One nineteenth century artist, Edward Hicks, even painted 62 slightly different versions of the peaceable kingdom!
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. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain….
But I am not an art historian, and this is not an art appreciation class, and as fascinating as it is to consider why Hicks painted so many different version of this passage, and what those differences might mean, the real question for us tonight is not, why we should care about Hicks, but why this passage from Isaiah is so important!
Looking at this passage from Isaiah, there are a couple of things going on.
First, it begins with this reference to the root, or rod, or stump, or stock of Jesse. If you have spent any time in a garden, that’s a great image. I can think of any number of things that I have drastically cut back; pulled out by the roots; dug up and tossed away, that I am confident they have been eradicated, only to discover in a week, or a month, or a season, they are back stronger than ever.
In a sense, that’s what Isaiah is speaking about tonight.
A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
Just when things look bleakest; when things look hopeless; when there seems to be no future possibility; when things look and feel dead; Isaiah holds before us a future, with hope. It is that same future which Jeremiah holds before us. For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.Like Jeremiah, Isaiah promises a future with hope, and what a picture of hope he paints.
The 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. His 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; but 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. Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
Israel is in despair. Her leaders are defeated. All hope is lost. And yet in this moment of death, desolation, and anguish, Isaiah tells us that God’s spirit will alight on a new leader, and righteous, and equity, and justice, for the poor and the meek will be restored.
In a moment when things are bleak, when hope is lost, when the future is unbearable, when all that is left is a dead, lifeless stump, Isaiah reminds God’s people that God will act, that a shoot shall come out of the stock of Jesse. This, after all, is the way of God. Life does emerge from death. Hope does spring up, when all seems hopeless. God will act, and righteousness and justice will be restored.
But that’s not all that’s going on. The incredible thing is, that Isaiah is not simply speaking of the restoration of righteousness and justice, he is speaking of the reordering of all things.
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. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
Having kept chickens at Emery House, I know that wolves do not live with lambs, or leopards lie with kids, or cows and bears graze together. I know firsthand the death, and destruction, that dogs, and foxes, coyotes, and owls, skunks, and weasels can wreak on a flock of poultry. And so I know how remarkable is this vision which Isaiah holds before us. The picture Isaiah paints is not simply a restoration of something lost. The consequence of God’s action, the end result of a shoot coming forth from the stock of Jesse, the fulfillment of a long desired appearance of a messiah king, is nothing less than the total reordering of creation, when predators will live in harmony with prey, and the most vulnerable will dwell in peace and security. This is Isaiah’s vision. This is God’s promise.
Like so many before us, including those alive when Isaiah first wrote these words, the world can be gripped by violence; we feel there is no hope; our future appears frightening, or unbearable. And into this world, Isaiah speaks, and God acts.
A shoot shall come out of the stock of Jesse.
As Christians we believe that this is happening, and that by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, God has reordered creation. Life does emerge from death, and hope does spring up, when all seems lost, for in Jesus, God has not only promised, but given us a future filled with hope.
That is what Advent is all about. It is not simply a time for us to look back to Bethlehem, but into the future where God’s promised intention for creation is not or a dream or a fantasy, but a reality we all know. Where justice and righteousness will be established, and where the poor and the meek will not be despised or oppressed, and where the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord.
As Christians, we wait not so much for Christmas, as we do for the day when God will reorder all creation, so that predator and prey will live in harmony, and the most vulnerable live in peace and security. This is the vision of Isaiah, and the hope of Advent. It is the work of Jesus, and the prayer of the faithful.
Edward Hicks painted the peaceable kingdom 62 times over the course of his career, because the world in which he lived, so needed the reminder of God’s promise of a future with hope, where righteousness, justice, and equity cover the earth as waters cover the seas. Our world needs to hear that promise no less than did his, or even Isaiah’s.
That is the promise of God for Hicks, and for Isaiah, and for us. It is the promise of God, and the work of Jesus, the hope of Advent, and the prayer of God’s faithful people.
 Edward Hicks (1780 – 1849): Born in Pennsylvania, Hicks was trained as a coach painter. As a young man he became a Quaker, and during his life he was better known as a Quaker minister and travelling preacher, although he supported his family as a decorative painter.
 Isaiah 11: 6 – 9a
 Isaiah 11: 1
 Jeremiah 29: 11
 Isaiah 11: 2 – 5
 Isaiah 11: 6 – 8
 Isaiah 11: 9b
 Isaiah 11: 9b
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