What do you want Heaven to look like? Do you want to walk through pearly gates? Do you want the streets made of gold? Do you want to walk on clouds with the brightest beams of sunshine bursting through? Do you want this endless table of food with everyone you know gathered around? What do you want Heaven to look like?
I’m sure it’s because I grew up on a farm, but I have grown to love Isaiah’s take on what God is working towards in the end: all these creatures living side-by-side in perfect harmony. Part of that growing up on the farm was taking animals to the county fair, especially cows and pigs. However, regardless of whether it was in the barn at home or in the stalls at the county fair, it was by no means perfect harmony. Taking pigs to the fair, including showing them in front of judges was a nightmare of catastrophic proportion, and that’s putting it mildly. And we can’t blame the cows for not being huge fans of the fair either, having to be tied up for days on end.
But the truth is we humans are not that different from the rest of our Kingdom Animalia counterparts. We are all basically pre-programmed to look out for ourselves. We have to find food, water, shelter, as well as finding others to help us with those things, and we will gladly push even more others aside who get in the way of us finding those precious things. In the end, all animals tend to go after each other, not just those in the wild, but also those who are meant to be more domesticated, including us humans.
And yet Isaiah paints this awe-inspiring picture of absolutely perfect harmony amongst creatures that would most certainly tear each other apart otherwise in the pursuit of self-preservation. It’s incredibly drastic: wolves and lambs, bears and cows, lions and calves living side-by-side each other as if they have no desire whatsoever to harm one another, as if they want to live in the same world together, as if they care just as much about the other as they do themselves. That’s why I like Isaiah’s take on what God is working towards in the end. This is God swinging for the eternal fences. This isn’t just something you can construct with some gold and pearls. This is completely overhauling the entire Kingdom Animalia, including us humans, and our obsession with ourselves. This is somehow transforming us to live in the same world with people we, otherwise, avoid at all costs. This is making us into a new Creation: into fully-enriched children of God loving one another just as much as we love ourselves.
Except, if that’s God ultimately being the One to pull that off in the end, what exactly are we supposed to do now? Just sit back and wait for that Kingdom to come, for God’s will to finally be done forever? Are we just supposed to wait out all the evil and hatred and selfish behavior that plagues our world today? This season, as wonderful and beautiful as it is, tends to bring in some frustration too: not just with the chaos of it all, but that thinking if this Messiah child did come, and did lead us closer to God, to understanding what the Kingdom was all about, and leading us into even more love and hope for all people; how frustrating it is that there has been no improvement at all with us humans since Jesus came and supposedly changed the world forever.
But He did: He gave us power to become children of God. He united us into one family in Christ, and He continues to do so day after day through the gift of baptism. At the beginning of that very same passage we heard this morning about wolves and lambs, bears and cows, lions and calves, living side-by-side each other, are words that should be very familiar to us: “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.” Those don’t just come every year as we approach Christmas, but with every baptism, and even every Confirmation. We pray that the Holy Spirit will be on the baptized; that they will be blessed with that “Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord.”
And of course when we use that word fear, we don’t mean being scared of God: that we wait in trepidation for God to usher in the Kingdom at some point in the future, worrying about whether we will be included or not. Instead this fear is an overwhelming awe, a captivating inspiration. We are so inspired by this image of all these creatures living in perfect harmony that we will help bring in just a glimpse of it to the world today. God did not envision Isaiah to proclaim this drastic shift for us to just sit back and wait for God to, at some point, pull it off. Instead, a little child did come into the picture and led us to see just how we pull it off ourselves. And the Holy Spirit continues to ignite within us each and every day through our baptism to instill harmony in our homes, our workplaces, our communities. God pulls it off through Christmas in the Village gatherings, angel trees, Christmas food baskets and much more. And it will most certainly not stop after December 25, because Christ will still be alive in us and throughout God’s world after that, and He will be with us all the way to our end and beyond. And for that hope that unites us all, we give thanks to God indeed! Amen.
St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Rev. Nan Dehnke, Pastor
Office: Mon - Thu: 9 a.m. - Noon