The Peaceable Kingdom

The wolf shall live with the lamb… and a little child shall lead them. Isaiah 11:6

There is a movie that I enjoyed a few years ago called “Grand Canyon.” And one of the characters in that film is an attorney named Mack and he is locked in an L.A. traffic jam. He takes a short cut through a part of L.A. that is notorious for its street gangs. He moves deeper into bad neighborhoods until finally his fancy sports car stalls in a sketchy looking neighborhood.

Mack calls a tow truck, but before the truck could arrive a low-riding car with base-pounding music pulls up behind Mack’s car. A group of neighborhood street thugs start piling out of that low-rider and move towards Mack and his nice car.

They surround his car and begin to hassle him and just about that time the tow truck pulls up and out steps an earnest and serious looking man named Simon (who is played by Danny Glover).

All of the street thugs start to protest and threaten both Mack and Simon until Simon takes aside the leader of the street gang and says this:

Man, the world ain’t supposed to work like this. I mean, maybe you don’t know that yet. I’m supposed to be able to do my job without having to ask you if I can. That dude is supposed to be able to wait with his car without you ripping him off. Everything is supposed to be different than it is.

That is a graduate ethics course on a street corner. Simon’s street-side speech is a summary of what all of us experience in this world. Everything is supposed to be different than it is.

What we see on our news, what we see in our cities, what we see in our own community, and what we see in the mirror every morning is not the way it is supposed to be.

When you go to your kitchen faucet and fill a glass of tap water and then turn on the news to learn that every year in our world 3.4 million people die of simple, curable water related diseases…you might think to yourself, Everything is supposed to be different than it is.

When you think about the fact that most of us in this room grew up in a family that supported your education experience so that you can read, write, and do basic math— you will have exponentially more opportunities in life than many of the kids that grow up in the inner cities like Denver and Dallas. If you are honest you will say to yourself, Everything is supposed to be different than it is.

When you open the first pages of the book that we love we see a story of a Creator who fashions the cosmos, galaxies, worlds and a human family that is deeply good. God creates the world as an interwoven tapestry of relationships and goodness that is woven together in beauty and delight.

God creates a world that is good, just, and kind. It is swollen with possibilities. But early in the story our primal parents turned their backs on our Creator. And as that happens the fabric of the tapestry of God’s good creation is torn and begins to unravel.

The unraveling that sin has brought into this world tears at families, societies, and even the molecular structure of creation itself. Everything is supposed to be different than it is.

No other approach to God is like the Christian story. Lots of other religions talk about God’s compassion for the poor—but only the Christian story says God becomes poor. When Jesus came to us in that manger, God became the poor and the powerless. God suffers injustice to draw out its sting, undo its power, and begin the work of restoring his world.

As we see what God has done for the weak and poor in Jesus, we who follow him—if we follow him close enough for the dust of his sandals to get on our clothes—then we will follow him down into obscurity, weakness, and poverty.

If you want to do the works of the One who is high and lifted up, serve the ones who are low and leveled down. ~ Beth Moore

This is why it is hard for some of us to understand why so many “Christians” are so supportive of policies in local, state, and national governments that seem to do so much harm to the poor and the powerless of our society.

If we follow closely the Jesus described in Scriptures, He will lead us to places that He would go and do the work that he would do. Honestly, I’m not certain that is where the majority of Christians in America want to go. They want to stay insulated and away from the poor and marginalized.

It is customary for self-righteous preachers from pulpits and Christian celebrity wags on television to whine and complain about how commercialized and materialistic Christmas has become. The war on Christmas that so many are concerned about is about getting back the true meaning of Christmas that does not include materialism.

But may I be so bold as to say that I think just the opposite is accurate. Christmas is a very materialistic celebration. Because the Christmas story is a narrative of a God who came to inhabits cells, sinews, and sinuses—and to do something about what is wrong with this material world.

What this means is that was we walk closer to our rabbi and Savior, we will learn how to have a more materialistic Christmas. Christmas is good news for this material world. And that means that you and I ought to be diligent about how we can address the tears of this world.

So, go out and tell your family and friends that your pastor told you to go out and have a more materialistic Christmas. Maybe instead of singing “Have yourself a Merry little Christmas” we could adapt those lyrics to say, “Have yourself a materialistic little Christmas.”

How do we do that?

When you look at the life of Jesus, you don’t see him standing up for the poor out of anger or paranoia. But out of the deep communion with the God he calls Father. Out of a deep interior life of love with the one he calls Abba.

When you look at Jesus you see someone who is brim-full with God’s Spirit; who delights in the presence of God. All of Jesus’ preaching, teaching, and ministry comes from those deep wells of communion with God in prayer.

We pray and then we act.

When you look at Jesus, you are actually looking at God getting dirt under his fingernails in the pain, suffering, and wrong of this world. And God invites us to be like Jesus and actually do something about the wrong and neglected in our community.

You could start by noticing a neighbor who looks lonely and begin a relationship with them. You could start by opening your home to someone who needs someone to talk to.

Start somewhere, start small, and do something.

There is a “Now” that God has accomplished in Jesus in the manger in Bethlehem, but there is a tomorrow that is not here yet.

Maybe you have seen the artist Edward Hicks depiction of this scene in a painting called The Peaceable Kingdom. Edward Hicks was a 19th century Quaker minister and painter. During the course of life, he was fascinated by this vision of a healed world and actually, painted this vision at least 62 times.

As he painted that scene over and over again in his life, the painting morphed as did his understanding of life in this world. Towards the end of his hard life, disillusionment began to creep into his faith so that one of the last versions of Peaceable Kingdom shows a darker scene. The child is still there but the animals have changed so that they all look more predatorial. Their claws are showing, and their fangs are bared.

If we are honest, you and I still live in a claws-out, fangs-bared kind of world. So, this “Not Yet” half of Isaiah’s vision invites us to discipline of waiting.

I find it interesting that in our world that is allergic to waiting, we Christ-followers still have to endure bared fangs and claws as we look out our windows towards the eastern skies and wait for the coming of our Lord. That is the day when everything that is supposed to be different—is different.

In the meantime, we are called to wait now—for a great future in which God will make all things new. Waiting is holy not-doing. It is disciplined looking ahead with your mental and emotional energy, your imagination, and your deep yearnings for that NOT YET day.

And so, my friend I hope you have yourself a materialistic little Christmas this year.

About Joe Chambers

I am the beloved of the Most High God. I am an avid reader and writer and have been a continuous learner since my college studies in Ancient Literature and English. I live at the base of Mount Princeton in the Colorado Rockies with my wife of over three decades. I believe I have been put here to tell people that God is not mad at them and to show them the way Home. I am the father of three sons, three beautiful daughters-in-law and four grandchildren. I love to read, tell stories, and spend time in the wilderness.
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