The Wolf and the Lamb Will Lie Down – a reflection on Isaiah 11:1-9

G.K. Chesterton said that when he was little he was told that the world was a magic place, filled with extraordinary creatures and strange things going on everywhere. When he got older and went to school he was taught that it wasn’t magical at all. It was all scientific. Everything in the world moved according to certain immutable laws and made perfect sense. So as an adult he was able to look back and realise that he had been lied to, though he decided that it wasn’t those who had told him the fantastic stories in his youth that had lied to him. It was those who had told him that it all made sense, and who couldn’t see the magic.

Chesterton notes that even older children can be surprised and grateful at the way Santa leaves toys and fruit in their stockings, but he wonders at what age it is that we stop being surprised and grateful for the fact that we have feet to put in our stockings. He notes that a child of seven can get excited by the fact that Tommy opened the door and saw a dragon, but it takes a child of three to get excited about the fact that Tommy opened the door. At what age is it that we loose our sense of wonder in life?

I remember some years ago now talking with Veronica before she went to sleep about how she used to go flying during the night, and it reminded me of the fact that when I was younger I used to go flying too, but I had forgotten how to fly. And Veronica and I wondered together as to how old you had to be before you forget how to fly. And now, of course, she has forgotten how to fly.

Early on, I think, we loose our sense of wonder at the world.

I loved that image Sandy gave us last week of our world (if you were here) – detailing the number of volcanoes that are constantly erupting and the number of tornadoes that are tearing up the atmosphere. She left me with this sense of a constantly moving, seething, volatile universe, such that living in this world is more like riding a surfboard than it is like sitting in an office, which is how so many of us experience life so much of our time, “where all of life� as Clifton Fadiman says “is an earnest search for the right manila folder in which to get filed away.”

We loose our sense of wonder at the world. And when that happens, our imagination slowly begins to die. Our creativity become increasingly limited to that small scope of affairs that we call our working world, and life begins to go from being a technicolour experience to being a rather monochrome affair.

And so we read these lines of prophecy from the book of Isaiah:

6 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.
7 The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
9 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.

And we think ‘yeah, right’. Because we know the world does not work that way.

Wolves eat lambs. Leopards eat kids. Big fish eat small fish. And dog eats dog. And if you want to get by in this dog-eat-dog world then you play by the rules and you watch your butt and you look after No.1 because nobody else is going to do it, and that’s just the way the world is and there’s nothing you can do about it so you might as well learn to play along with it.

Am I loosing anyone here?

Isaiah dreamt of a better world, and it’s a big dream. It’s not just a dream of a more orderly office, or even a dream of honest government. It’s a dream of a whole new world where traditional enemies are able to sit down with each other and relax with one another.

At one level it’s a very Hebrew dream. It centers around a hope for a new Davidic King (‘a shoot from the stump of Jesse’) who, we are told, will gather together the old scattered remnants of the old nation of Israel, and will build it up again so that it can become the nation of people under God that it always had the potential to be.

At one level it’s a very Hebrew vision, but beyond that it is also a very comprehensive vision that has not just women and men, but all sorts of creatures, who once upon a time could not get on with each other, lying around and mucking around with each other: wolves and lambs, leopards and goats, children and snakes. Everyone is getting on with each other. Why? ‘Because the earth is as full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.’

This is Isaiah’s dream of a better world. It’s a God-given dream. Has God given you a dream?

  • I dream of a world where Afghans and Americans sit down side by side.
  • I dream of a world where Palestinian children play with Israeli children in peace.
  • I dream of a world where governments don’t close local schools for the sake of political expedience.
  • I dream of a world where everybody is able to afford decent housing.
  • I dream of a world where refugees and strangers are made welcome and invited to share in the abundance.
  • I dream of a world where black Australians and white Australians and peoples of all cultures can sit down and laugh and tell stories together with no antagonism between them.
  • I dream of a world where none of us really see his or her own property as really being is or her own property, but where we see everything we have as God’s gift, given to us so that we might be creative with it, and share it around with those who need it most.
  • I dream of a world where the gates have been removed from our garden fences and where the doors of our houses are always open, so that we can feel free to move in and out of each others homes and lives because we can trust one another.
  • I dream of a world where people talk straightforwardly and honestly to each other, where there’s no manipulation or double-talk.
  • I too dream of a world where the earth is as full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

What sort of world do you dream of? That’s the first question, and the second is like it. Are you capable of being childish enough to see that your dreams are one day going to come true?

I know that those of us who have ideals and dreams of a better world are sometimes considered to be naively optimistic. But from a Biblical point of view, I think it is the people who have sold out to ‘reality as we know it’ that are naive.
“Reality is an illusion,” said Albert Einstein, “albeit a persistent one.”

What we mean when we say ‘this is reality’ is that ‘this is the way it worked yesterday’, and the reason yesterday takes on the status of reality is because what happened yesterday was also what happened the day before and the day before that. It is the routine nature of the lives we live that so often destroys our sense of wonder and replaces it with a sense of reality.

There is a reason, says G.K. Chesterton, why Cinderella is younger than her ugly sisters. She has not had time to be hardened by years of routine, and so she has not swallowed the lie that today has to be exactly the same as yesterday, which has to be exactly the same as the day before that. She has not lost her sense of wonder, and so she is open to a new tomorrow and to the miraculous.

The days are coming, says the Lord, when:
6 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.
7 The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
9 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 saw just a glimpse of that yesterday I feel. Maybe you didn’t experience it that way, but I think the Dulwich Hill fair has again been my favourite event of the year.

If, like me, you live and work in this suburb, you walk up and down these streets on a daily basis, you walk past the school and the houses in Seaview Street, you go in and out of the shops in Marrickville Road, and you do business. You don’t chat too much with people. You’re generally on your way to somewhere else, so you deal with these people and with these businesses and you move on. Yet on this one day of the year all these people who run these businesses just wander out into the main street and we chat and have coffee together. The residents of Seaview Street come down and lean on their fences and talk to you. And local kids and musicians and dancers and singers get up and share their gifts with the rest of Dulwich Hill. And people are making food and others are bringing plates of it around and inviting you to share it with them. And I get to spend the entire day just hanging about the street, talking to friends, meeting new people, sharing their food, and celebrating what it means to be part of this community.

Now I know it’s not as perfect as it seems. And I know that not everybody trusts everybody there. And I know that there are undercurrents, and that wallets go missing, etc. But it’s a glimpse of that great dream.

And the days are coming, says the Lord, ‘when the earth will be as full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea’. And when that day comes, all our dreams will come true.

First Preached by Father Dave at Holy Trinity Dulwich Hill, December 10th, 2001.

Rev. David B. Smith

Parish priest, community worker,
martial arts master, pro boxer,
author, father of four.

www.FatherDave.org

About Father Dave

Preacher, Pugilist, Activist, Father of four
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