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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Advent 12/5

The image on the front of your bulletin is a painting called “The Peaceable Kingdom” by Edward Hicks, a 19th century American artist.  He painted over a hundred different versions of this which I guess either means that he really liked what this image represents or he just couldn’t think of anything else to paint.  Actually Hicks was a Quaker minister but that didn’t pay him enough to get by so he took up painting on the side although mostly the kind of painting he did was furniture and other household objects, farm equipment along with tavern signs and things like that.  Some of this though, didn’t sit very well in the Quaker community as it conflicted with their simple way of life and the fact that he was making good money doing this side work raised questions as well.  In any case, easel painting was more or less a hobby for Hicks, his paintings were mostly done as gifts for family and friends not to sell and make money; and as is evident in his many productions of “The Peaceable Kingdom,” he did tend to repeat themes in his paintings.

One of those themes was peace, which fits his Quaker background, and Isaiah 11, our first lesson this morning, was his inspiration for “The Peaceable Kingdom.”  What you have on your bulletin isn’t real big, but you can see that all the animals are there, all the ones Isaiah mentions, the wolf and the lamb, leopard and kid, calf (or fatling) and lion, the cow and the ox.  No two of Hicks’ paintings of this are exactly the same but in all of them the animals have rather expressive faces, almost human actually, with the eyes large and wide open as if having just been startled, surprised by something. 

I read that that was part of Hicks’ intent in doing this painting.  That look of surprise is intentional as he wanted to illustrate the fact that peace is surprising.  It’s kind of sad that that’s the case, but we get so numbed by the reality of conflict in the world, that we are surprised when peace is achieved.  That’s the case for the little child in the painting too.  The little child is there with the animals, a child wide eyed in the midst of the unlikely reality that surrounds him (or her).

Peace is surprising and it’s surprising in the Isaiah text too.  Based on the verses in chapter 10 that precede the peaceable kingdom verses, reading chapter 11 you’d say, “Boy, I didn’t see that coming.”  The verses that end chapter 10 are not about peace at all, but are about the destruction of Jerusalem including God’s part in it; “He will shake his fist at the mount of daughter Zion, the hill of Jerusalem.  Look, the Sovereign, the Lord of hosts will lop the boughs with terrifying power; the tallest trees will be cut down and the lofty will be brought low.  He will hack down the thickets of the forest with an ax, and Lebanon with its majestic trees will fall.”

From that would you expect “A shoot shall come out of the stump of Jesse, the Spirit of the Lord will rest on him,” with that to be followed by the image of wolves and lambs lying down together in peace?  Isaiah would have been looking at a scene of devastation, a battlefield after the battle, the land laid waste, trees bent and broken, Israel’s army defeated.  Yet out of that Isaiah imagines the possibility of something new.  He sees a stump, a tree that will never be a tree again but he’s able to see the stump as something else, something other than a symbol of finality and death.   He’s able to imagine a shoot of life growing out of that stump.  It isn’t much, just a sprout, a faint sign of life, but a sign of growth and possibility nonetheless.  And not only that, but looking at a desolate battlefield, the prophet is also able to imagine the peace that Edward Hicks painted.

All of which is surprising, surprising unless you read all of Isaiah which is full of these surprises that summoned people to hope and expectation in the face of what seemed to be and what were discouraging events and circumstances.  Actually though, what Isaiah does is the kind of thing we all should do, and Advent is a good time to be reminded of it.

We don’t necessarily survey scenes of battlefield devastation like he did, but we can be subject to a pretty steady stream of discouraging, depressing and sometimes frightening news.  I must say, it’s not as bad here as it is in other places.  I always notice this when we go to New England to visit my mother and watch the local news on the Boston stations.  It’s almost all sensationalistic 20 second bites of the latest murder, rape, political scandal, sex scandal, accident, fire, kidnapping as well as other assorted atrocities all presented with frantic urgency and attention getting graphics often with what I think are inappropriate interviews with victims and family members involved in all these horrors. 

It reaches the point that I really can’t stand to watch it.  If you ever see a news broadcast in a major market you know what I’m talking about.  It always makes me appreciate the local news here, which isn’t totally immune to all that but TV6 and the station down the hill here, The Mining Journal and the other local media do a much better job of reporting the other things that go on, the sprout of life growing out of a dead stump kind of things.

In some markets those things aren’t newsworthy, but they are things we need to hear.  We need to hear about neighbors helping neighbors in need, school kids gathering canned goods, a community gathering around a football team, people sending cards and gift boxes to troops, churches celebrating 140th anniversaries.  It’s not that we can or should ignore the bad things, the scenes of devastation, they’re out there, they’re part of our world. But they’re not all there is.  There are other things, shoots of life growing out of dead stumps.  Those shoots help us to remember that the peaceable kingdom that Isaiah described and that Edward Hicks painted, while surprising in some ways, is a kingdom that is possible; it’s not just poetry or a painting.  It’s possible because it is the spirit of the Lord that makes it possible. 

Prophets like Isaiah and John the Baptist were about reminding people of the power of the Spirit and the possibility inherent in that Spirit.  Some, as they view the scenes of devastation or watch the bad news, become resigned to it as just the way things are and there’s nothing to be done about it.  Others feel like if there is going to be change, we have to make it happen.  That’s helpful and it certainly is better than resignation, but Isaiah and John remind us that there is more.  It’s called the Spirit of Lord in the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit in the New, but it represents a divine force that enlivens and gives power, energy and courage.  Through those who bear this spirit, what the world believes is impossible becomes possible. 

So from Isaiah there is the image of what really is a transformed creation with relationships that had been marked by hostility and threat now become relationships of peace and reconciliation.  It’s surprising, but by the power of the Spirit such peace is possible. 

Peace is another Advent theme, another one of the words that hangs from the Advent wreath over there along with love, joy and hope and there are those shoots emerging from dead stumps that remind us that peace is possible.  There are the neighborly kinds of things I mentioned but even regarding larger conflicts between nations as well as religious and ethnic groups, amid all the bad news there are always those working to end violence and misunderstanding and hatred in the name of peace, real peace.

Too often I think, when we hear about peace during this season it’s just a  nice warm, fuzzy kind of feeling.  But the peace envisioned by Isaiah is not just a warm fuzzy.  The words that echo from Isaiah and from the psalm today are justice and righteousness and equity.  Justice and righteousness and equity are about relationships between people, they’re about how people treat each other and they are the foundation of the peaceable kingdom in which not just the lion and lamb can rest together, but people of all nations and races and religions can do the same thing.

Jesus came as the little child envisioned by Isaiah, the little child who would lead us to the peaceable kingdom.  He came as our fulfillment of this vision and he proclaimed an ethic of peace and for him peace wasn’t just a warm fuzzy either.  It was a kingdom, his kingdom, the kingdom of God.

During Advent we anticipate the celebration of the birth of that little child.  But we also keep our eyes on the kingdom, not just as a vision, but as a reality.   

Rev. Warren Geier

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
sent me.”


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