The wolf and the lamb shall feed together – Second Sunday before Advent 2010

 

The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,

the lion shall eat straw like the ox;

but the serpent—its food shall be dust!

They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain,

says the Lord.

Isaiah 65:25

Our Old Testament reading today begins with God saying, “Look at me making new heavens and a new earth”. And when we look at the picture of this new creation, what do we see? Something that is both fairly ordinary and wildly unachievable.

I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress.
No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days,
or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;
for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.

It is a world without war. No longer will the youth be cut off in their prime; no longer will infants fall victim to the illnesses and deprivation that accompany warfare. People will be free to live out their full span of days in peace.

They shall build houses and inhabit them;

they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit;

they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,

and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
They shall not labour in vain, or bear children for calamity.

 

 

 

It is a world without war, and without injustice; where people may work in peace and find a modest prosperity; sufficient food and adequate shelter; a proper reward for their labour, and children to succeed them.

 

It is a modest vision, and yet how it eludes our grasp. Our greed to possess at the expense of others, our need to defend ourselves by attacking others, our consuming desire for power, because “might makes right” – these perennial afflictions of the human soul keep the new heavens and earth far away. Sometimes we fight with swords and guns, other times with finance and commerce; and because there is always someone who wishes to assert themselves, it is always necessary to provide for defence. The XXXVIIth (Anglican) Article of Religion acknowledges this succinctly when it states:

“It is lawful for Christian men, at the commandment of the Magistrate, to wear weapons, and serve in the wars”.

 

This may be realist, but it can’t be the full story. The Quaker Peace Testimony is also necessary.

 

We utterly deny all outward wars and strife and fightings with outward weapons, for any end, or under any pretence whatsoever; and this is our testimony to the whole world. The spirit of Christ, by which we are guided, is not changeable, so as once to command us from a thing as evil and again to move unto it; and we do certainly know, and so testify to the world, that the spirit of Christ, which leads us into all Truth, will never move us to fight and war against any man with outward weapons, neither for the kingdom of Christ, nor for the kingdoms of this world.

The Quaker sense of the divine light in everyman leads to a hope of the transformation of everyman and thus of the world. When Isaiah speaks of wolves and lions becoming vegetarian, he is not speaking of Lupus and Leo, but of the only species that can choose and shape his life; Homo sapiens. When we can find a way of living together which is just and gentle, not violent and selfish, then we are transformed and so are the heavens and the earth. “They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord”.

 For wolves and lions to go back to eating grass, it seems we are going back to the beginning of the creation story when all creatures are herbivore. But one detail does not go back to the very beginning. “The serpent—its food shall be dust!”  The serpent is condemned to crawl on its belly and eat dust in punishment for seducing Adam and Eve – no longer can it pretend to be an angel of light and wisdom. The human is transformed, the wolf is tamed, when the serpent is recognised for what it is: the lusts and fears, the pride and desire for domination,  that lead us into cruelty, violence and destruction.  To destroy these “works of the devil” is the first step on the way to the new heavens and new earth.

Today’s Collect says:

Heavenly Father, whose blessed Son was revealed to destroy the works of the devil and to make us the children of God and heirs of eternal life: Grant that we, having this hope, may purify ourselves even as he is pure; that when he shall appear in power and great glory, we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where he is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

 

 

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