Usually, this week’s reading from Isaiah (11: 1-10), with its promise of the holy mountain and the peaceable kingdom, is a comforting passage during Advent, as we prepare for the birth of Jesus. It is the promise of security and stability, of the glorious resting place where harmony will rule and “the wolf shall live with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid.”
But this year, in our very troubled times, the passage is not so comforting. Mother Kate, in her sermon, said the images in the reading always fill her with a wistfulness, and this year, she feels “the most wistful of all.” Our current world is very far from the peaceable kingdom, she said.
Like Mother Kate, I am feeling wistful too. Indeed, wistful might be an understatement. Despondent doesn’t feel too far off. The vitriol from the recent election; a bitterly divided nation; a casual disregard for the truth; the disdain with which people treat those they don’t even know; the lack of compassion for those who are different from us. And this is just a partial list! All of this makes it so easy to throw up our hands in disgust and further immerse ourselves in our own insular worlds. Or worse, we might feel pulled toward the fear and anger we are witnessing and act in ways that would not be described as our finest moments.
Yes, it is easy to grow increasingly skeptical that the peaceable kingdom is even possible.
But just as pessimism can threaten to slither in and overtake us, God reminds us that the kingdom truly is at hand. At the 9:00 a.m. service, that reminder was in the form of a remarkable testament from Bruce Lyman, our newly baptized adult member of the church. Bruce spoke to the congregation about why he chose to be baptized and his new life in Christ. He reminded us all that we are not really in charge, but God is.
What a remarkable and courageous moment it was. Frankly, it is not the kind of testimony you often hear at an Episcopal Church. But it was so ideal and so needed, on this particular Sunday, in this particular moment. Bruce’s open and moving testimony was a powerful reminder that the promise of the peaceable kingdom is real, even as we try to make our way in this broken and sad world. As Mother Kate said, the glorious kingdom is not ours to build, but it is the Lord’s mighty doing. He will show us signs and graces of the kingdom, she noted.
That grace was evident in the baptism. And I have decided that I want to choose to look for more signs of the kingdom rather than to slide down into the muck of pessimism, fear, and anger. It won’t be easy and I know I will be easily distracted by news and social media updates, and I perhaps will wander into those first few layers of the muck on occasion. But I plan to return to the baptismal prayer for strength: “Give us an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works.”