Friday, December 2, 2011

Second Week of Advent Devotional: The Peaceable Kingdom

The Second Week of Advent

Devotion by David Siegenthaler

1A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. 2The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. 3His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; 4but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. 5Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. 6The 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. 7The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. 9They 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. 10On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious. (Isaiah 11: 1-10)

And so we anticipate a savior who will turn things around. We did then, and we still do today. Things just aren’t right – they’re downright backwards in many ways. The wealthy become wealthier, the poor become poorer; the powerful flaunt their might, while the weak suffer in anguish. Things need to be turned around so radically that no relationship would be untouched by the remedy. Many think of this “peaceable kingdom” as a utopian vision of reconciliation with and within nature.

But the vision is symbol and hyperbole at best, and at worst it is blind to the goodness inherent in the world as it is. The “peaceable kingdom” from an ecological point of view, is arguably not respectful of any of the individuals pictured in it; not the lion nor the lamb, nor the calf, nor the wolf – nor even the human. From the perspective of what makes a human being, just think how boring life would be without moral challenges, without appreciation for our temporality that leads us to value the time we have, without appreciation that can only come from discernment of a spectrum of values.

Photo by David Siegenthaler

What power does this symbol of a peaceable kingdom, that we reenact every year in our depictions of those gathered around the manger in Bethlehem, exert on our perception and life in the world? To some, the idea of wild animals in proper ecological relationships has no meaning. Animals are mostly objects, like the rest of material being, for our use and manipulation. Others tend toward more of a kinship feeling toward other creatures, leading to harm to both wild animals

and humans. Whether or not such an attitude is really informed by the scriptural sources, many have such visions that function to influence how they interact with wildlife. Could the vision that comes from our deep longings for relief from those things that sorrow us, distort our view – actually get in the way of our discernment of God’s will for the world now?

Thus we come to the crux of the problem: how do we love the world, without imposing our own designs on it? At the same time, how do we prevent ourselves from hating the world and despairing that we will ever achieve greater degrees of justice for those things we know are the result of selfishness or abuses of power? Is it even our place to make such decisions for all of creaturely existence?

The new ruler anticipated in Isaiah and at this time of year, is a ruler who will lead us to understand and to live in new relationships of solidarity, respect, and care. The new life to which we are called, is inclusive of all creation, and it will be characterized by respect for the integrity of each living being. For the time being, our vision is still clouded, our envisioned utopias still a bit short of the mark. We eagerly watch and listen for the day when we will know everything is all right. In the meantime, we seek clues to how we can move things forward in the right direction, while we celebrate the opportunity to respond to the challenges of the day.

What can we do?

  • Get to know the place where you live. Even the most wild of wilderness preserves has no chance of survival unless we love the place where we live.
  • Feed your sense of wonder: develop/practice skills of natural awareness: sensory perception, observation of details, patient and quiet waiting.
  • Join others in your area who are champions of the preservation of place, open space, parks, and ecosystemic communities.

More Information:

Look in to organizations such as the Resource Renewal Institute/Defense of Place.

Participate in the Earth Charter Initiative.

Become familiar with the Healthy Parks, Healthy People Initiative.


Much more realistic than Isaiah 11, and respectful of animals as they are, is Psalm 104 – where it is celebrated that “…the young lions roar for their prey, seeking their food from God.”

“Oh Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures…” who “…all look to you to give them their food in due season.” Lord, we long for the complete joy of your kingdom, anticipating your presence among us, and the realization of a peace that is everlasting throughout your creation. Help us resolve our confusions over whether your kingdom is a future fulfillment, or a present reality to be lived.

David Siegenthaler is the PEC Pacific Regional Representative and volunteers as an eco-justice minister in the Presbytery of San Francisco. He is employed by the National Park Service to coordinate the Federal lands to Parks Program for the Western Region. David holds a Master’s degree in Environmental Resources Management, a Master of Divinity, and a Ph.D. in Systemic and Philosophical Theology.

Click here to access the whole 2011 PEC Advent Devotional in PDF format.

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