Opposites and Shoots from Stumps

Isaiah 11

The Branch From Jesse

1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD
3 and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.

He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
5 Righteousness will be his belt
and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

6 The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling[a] together;
and a little child will lead them.
7 The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
8 The infant will play near the cobras den,
the young child will put its hand into the vipers nest.
9 They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.

10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious

This reading from the prophet of Isaiah will be proclaimed this Sunday when we gather for the Second Sunday of Advent. As is so often the case with Scripture, different parts of a passage ‘grab’ me at different times… What I find myself captivated by this time are the opposites coming together in unity described in verses 6-9. What a startling illustration! How many times have we received an email forwarded to us from someone that depicts animals engaged in behaviors like this – completely contrary to their nature? I think of a recent one I received that showed a mother tiger nursing a piglet along with her cubs… or another one in which a cat had befriended a parakeet. Part of what is so alluring about this is the uniqueness, the certain knowledge we have about how a tiger would normally treat a baby pig, or what a cat would customarily do to a parakeet perched on the cat’s furry tummy! Isaiah used such startling and provocative images to teach us about the kingdom of God.

The dynamic of natural opposites coming together is worth our consideration this time of year. Think about some of the opposites or unlikely pairings that may occur during the Advent and Christmas season when relatives gather! What about the hard work of a parish community like St. Mary’s joining together to celebrate this holy season- this takes many of our members, who different people with different takes on faith and different backgrounds, coming together in unity for a common goal – the worship and praise of God. We may consider how we will come together following the most recent elections across our country. Some, no doubt, are feeling hope and joy, and others are feeling, well… not hope and joy!

We may also look to the personal aspect of the prophet’s imagery in verses 6-9. What would it look like, for example, if we were to be at peace within ourselves, with the parts of us that are opposite coming together? Let’s take Isaiah’s image and think about it like this for a moment:

“Anger and forgiveness will lie down together, with faith and hope to lead them.
Resentment and regret will come together in peace with acceptance and healing.
Hopefulness will play with trust in the presence of harsh judgment and shame…
they will neither harm nor destroy…”

I believe that’s one of the challenges and invitations of the Season of Advent – that type of unity and peace, without and within.

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One Response to Opposites and Shoots from Stumps

  1. Janine Voruz says:

    This is a great way to interpret this psalm for modern day readers. This could have great relevance for those attending our Longest Night service. There are so many ways to be lost in the darkness. We need to be able to see the Light in our darkness AND be willing to let it into our lives. Like the sun/Son rising, it starts as a glimmer that slowly seeps over the horizon until it is full daylight in our world and our hearts and minds.

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