A popular children’s television show used to feature a picture game called, “One Of These Things (Is Not Like The Others).” The exercise encouraged children to notice differences and correctly sort things into groups; for instance, three kinds of fruit belonged together and the mitten was the odd one out. In this picture, we have four lambs and one beefy bull, but I'd hardly call "Winston" the odd man out.
I love the way our lambs (and horses!) have come to embrace their bovine neighbor and vice versa. They have no idea what species they are and often hang out at the fenceline, sometimes grazing, often just chillin' like a bunch of carefree kids. I could write about the concept of inclusion or the beauty of diversity or a number of other things that would resonate in today’s culture and society. But this picture of a "peaceable kingdom" in our own pastures more readily calls to mind words that go much further back than our modern ideologies; roughly 2,700 years back, to the Book of the prophet Isaiah. In this passage (11:1-9), Isaiah foretold of a time when all creation would live in a state of perfect harmony:
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.
We're about to enter the third week of Advent. We’re eagerly awaiting the coming of that little child who will lead us and we're desperately seeking a piece of that peaceable kingdom. But first, there are a few questions that might be worth mulling over:
Is there someone in our lives whom we consider an adversary, a rival, or even an enemy? Are there unhealed hurts or divisions in our homes and families? Do we tend to snarl or swipe at others or roar our “truths” so loudly that no one else can be heard? Will there be someone at the Christmas table who will rattle our cage or make us growl under our breath? Do we coil in the corner and sharpen our fangs just in case there's a skirmish? Maybe yes, maybe no, but I think the real danger is becoming so fixated on external conflicts, personal differences, and dodging (or launching) slings and arrows, that we neglect to ponder the most powerful deterrent to peace…
Let’s consider that just maybe the “enemy” isn’t without — maybe it’s within. Maybe it’s us telling ourselves that our past and/or past relationships are irreconcilable, our future doesn’t look so promising either…and the idea of a peaceable kingdom of God here and now? Impossible, we scoff! Truth is, we probably have a whole quiver full of self-piercing arrows in the stories and lies we tell ourselves.
As I see it, we can’t begin to have or make peace with others, to cooperate with ushering in Isaiah's Messianic vision, until we make peace with ourselves...and with God. Like love, we can’t give what we don’t have. But there’s soothing balm to be found in the Giver of the gift.
Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid." (John 14:27)
He couldn't have spoken any plainer. The peaceable kingdom isn’t of this world; it’s only to be found in its fullness and perfection through Him and with Him in the life and world to come. Yet, by the grace of God, His followers can experience a foretaste of it here on earth. But wait. There's a catch. Notice how Jesus’ words make a direct connection between experiencing supernatural peace and what’s happening in our hearts? A troubled or frightened heart is a direct impediment to receiving His gifts of peace and reconciliation. Hence, the only path up that holy mountain is to lay down our differences, lay down our arms, lay down our fears, our troubles, and our self-serving narratives, and take the hand of a little child instead.
For a child is born to us, a son is given to us;
upon his shoulder dominion rests.
The only “other” we should want and need to be like is that Child who is the Prince of Peace. As we strive toward this conformity with Christ, we’ll stop noticing which "one is not like the others" and instead rejoice in the beautiful way we all resemble and belong to each other in the name of Jesus.
They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero,
Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.