Advent Meditation on Isaiah 11:1-10

PromiseIn this season, we symbolically await the arrival of Jesus the Christ, one in whom rest some pretty high expectations. The divine as revealed in Jesus is meant to teach us many things: to delight in justice, to reject superficiality, to hone into the spirit of godly wisdom, planning, understanding, and strength. This God among us is supposed to vindicate the injured, strike the violent, squelch the spirits of the wicked with the rod of God’s mouth and by the breath of God’s lips. The divine wind, it is promised, will rest upon humanity, lifting us into joy and hope.

In Isaiah’s prophetic words we see the dazzling revelation of God’s new economy of life, one in which the old relational nexuses are subverted to disclose a striking web of mutuality: babies will play with serpents and not be struck, they will reach their hands across vipers’ nests and emerge unscathed. Lions and bears will fill their stomachs with blades of grass instead of mounds of flesh, lying alongside calves and lambs and baby oxen. Wolves and leopards are to snuggle with goats, and children will play with defanged carnivores, wild beasts without the desire to consume.

This zoological spectacle is a vision of future human affairs, of salvation from a world of violence and decay. “They won’t harm or destroy anywhere in my holy world,” the prophet insists.

Isaiah’s peaceful bestial metaphors make sense coming from an agrarian society. But how might this ancient promise be translated for us today? What would it mean for a toddler to reach over the adder’s nest, for birds of prey to fill their beaks with honey rather than blood? For the hint of growth, greenery shooting out of a stump, to emerge from a desolate landscape?

Reading this passage, I am struck by how Isaiah’s imagery reimagines the omnipresent threat of violence. I live in Chicago, where just last week a police officer was charged with the first degree murder of a child. I live in a city where 2,500 people have been shot so far this year, where infants and basketball-toting kids are frequently murdered or merely considered collateral damage by a system that discards black lives.

In these times, claiming a future of peace is a bold, almost unthinkable dream. Yet God in this prophecy is promising just this – that one day your kids will be able to go to sleepovers without catching a stray bullet; that your children will be able to play on playgrounds without being shot by those ordained to protect them. Nursing babies will lie down in peace, and the young and old will be able to flock to Wednesday night Bible studies without the threat of white supremacist wolves burning their churches and destroying their bodies.

Might we be bold enough to believe in this promise. May this promise be a healing balm for those groaning under our foul status quo. As waters cover the sea, so we pray, may people on the earth come to love God’s peace.


Written by Kenji Kuramitsu

Kenji KuramitsuKenji Kuramitsu is a Masters of Divinity Student at Chicago’s McCormick Theological Seminary. He is interested in the study of sacrament, public service, critical mixed race theory, and liberation theologies. Kenji works with queerspawn (the children of LGBTQ parents) and diverse groups to foster healthy conversations about Christian faith and LGBTQ identity. Kenji serves on the board of The Reformation Project and the youth council of the Japanese American Citizens League.

Kenji was raised both Roman Catholic and evangelical, and was joyfully received into the Episcopal Church this spring.

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