19 December 2011

Isaiah 11:1-9

"The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid" (v. 6)


Why, you may wonder, in the week before Christmas, are we reading an Old Testament prophecy about dangerous animals becoming peaceful? We have here a vision in Isaiah of a figure who will have the spirit of God, will be wise and able to give counsel, and who will judge with righteousness in favour of the poor and meek, punishing the wicked. The reign of this person will have remarkable consequences, not just for human beings, but for the whole of creation. Peace will break out even between wild animals and their prey. Young children will lead calves and lions together and will play near the nests of poisonous snakes without danger. Across God's holy mountain, no harm will come to any creature and nothing will be destroyed.

Christians believe that Isaiah's prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. In Christ this new reign was begun and as a result of God becoming human we can expect the breaking in of a new kingdom of justice and peace that encompasses the whole of creation, as Isaiah prophesied. The birth of the baby that we celebrate on Sunday (Christmas Day) was therefore a cosmic event of significance for all the world, after which nothing would be the same again.

Christians also recognise, though, that despite all the Christmases that have come and gone since the time of Jesus, we still live in a world where injustice is everywhere, where the poor and the meek are trampled by the rich and arrogant, and where animals still live as enemies to one another and to human beings. We live in a world in which Jesus has already come, but which does not yet show the signs of the final victory of justice and peace Isaiah foretold. The period of Advent before Christmas is a time when we can recall that the world is still waiting for Jesus Christ to return so that peace between all creatures can finally reign.

To Ponder

What signs do you see today of a world that is still in need of the reign of God that Isaiah foretells?

What small signs in the world do you see that suggest that this reign of justice and peace is in part already here, as well as not yet?

What might Isaiah's vision of peaceable coexistence between all God's creatures mean for how Christians should treat other creatures now?

Bible notes author

David Clough

David Clough is Professor of Theological Ethics in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Chester. He is a Methodist local preacher, a member of the Joint Advisory Committee on the Ethics of Investment and the Faith and Order Network and drafted recent reports on peacemaking and climate change on behalf of the Methodist Church.