ISAIAH 11:1-10


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            Some of you remember the old comedy team, Laurel and Hardy. They produced some marvelous work, and Conrad Hyers, in his book And God Created Laughter tells about an early Laurel and Hardy film from 1929 titled Big Business.  Stan and Ollie are Christmas-tree salesmen in California going from house to house in a Model T truck loaded with trees.  The story begins innocently enough with a touch of the Christmas spirit and good cheer.  Before long, however, things deteriorate considerably.  Stan and Ollie come to the door of one homeowner who has a testy disposition and is in no mood to put up with door-to-door salesman.  

            He shuts the door after declining Stan and Ollie’s offer, but a tree branch gets caught in the door jamb.  Ollie rings for the irritated homeowner to open the door and release the branch.  Then as Stan is explaining the reason for this second intrusion, the man slams the door and catches Stan’s coat in the door.  Again the doorbell is rung, and as Stan is apologizing, the incensed homeowner slams the door and once more catches the tree in the jamb.  When the irate homeowner comes to the door for a fourth time, he brings along clippers, with which he cuts up the tree and tosses it on the lawn.  Stan concludes, “I don’t think he wants a tree.”

            By this time, however, Ollie is furious.  He pulls the man’s doorbell off the wall. When the dismayed homeowner picks up the phone to call the police, Ollie cuts the wire to the phone.  The film then records a gradually escalating conflict in which the homeowner destroys Stan and Ollie’s truck and trees, piece by piece, while Stan and Ollie destroy his house and shrubbery, piece by piece.  What had started out with a “Merry Christmas” ends up with two piles of rubble.[1]

            Sometimes what happens between individuals also happens between nations. Today’s words from the prophet Isaiah are some of the most beautiful words ever written about our longing for peace. Listen to some selected words from Isaiah’s writing:


            A shoot will come out from the stump of Jesse . . . The spirit of the LORD will rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the spirit of counsel and of might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD . . . with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth ... 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 will lead them . . . The nursing child will play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand into 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.


            In other words, Isaiah says, “When the Messiah comes in all of his fullness, all people will live in peace and dignity and love together.”  He says, “This is where the world is headed.”  The birth of Jesus was the beginning of a grand and glorious invasion of divine love.  In the language of war, a beachhead has been established.  In the language of agriculture, a seed of the kingdom of peace and love has been planted.  The love of a tiny infant will one day overcome all the anger and hostility and hatred that reside in human hearts, and people across the globe will live in peace and dignity together.

            That’s Isaiah’s message to us today.  Even though young men and women are still giving their lives in faraway places like Iraq and Afghanistan, there will come a time when war will be no more.

            War is a terrible thing.  Some of you have been there. You know.  As someone said, “War never decides who’s right . . . only who’s left.”

            Unfortunately, humankind has yet to figure out a way around it.  I think of the elderly man who saw some six and seven-year-old children at play, and asked, “What are you playing?”

            “War,” responded the kids.

            “Why don’t you play peace instead,” said the man.

            The children stopped, put their heads together, discussed something among themselves, then looked puzzled and finally ran out of words.  One of them went to the elderly man and asked, “Sir, how do we play peace?  We don’t know the game.”  I fear that’s all too often true.  Humans have been at war so often and for so long that we don’t know how to play peace.

            When the messiah comes, when the messiah comes in all his fullness, war will be no more.  Artificial boundaries will cease to exist.  We will all belong to one kingdom, the Kingdom of God.  That has always been the hope and the prayer of Christians.

            Rector Judith Davis tells about a Christmas at her house. Her young son Jamie, was a toddler, and had a baby doll (they try to have gender inclusive toys, says Davis).  Jamie mostly ignored his doll.  The doll was a girl all dressed in pink in a pink bassinet.

            They had been reading Jamie the Christmas story from a pop-up book.  The book showed baby Jesus in the manger at the stable and the familiar animal characters, the ox and donkey and cow and sheep gathered there.  Jamie was at an age when he probably didn’t have a clue who baby Jesus is, but he knew the story on some level.

One day, a few days after they had been reading the story and showing him the pictures in the book, they found Jamie over by his baby doll with all his Little People farm animals and his Noah’s ark animals all lined up around the bassinet.  The most wonderful part was that all God’s animals were there not just the donkey and sheep and cow, but giraffes, zebras, horses, pigs, lions, tigers, alligators, elephants, hippos and others.  He was so proud of his scene, his recreation of the Christmas story in the book.

The next night his Mom went into Jamie’s room to tell him goodnight, and he had arranged his animals once again.  Only this time, along with the turtles and the alligator and the horse and cow and sheep, were Pooh bear and Eeoyre and Barney.

            Out of the mouths and actions of babes we usually find the best theology, and the theology today is that Isaiah prophesied the peaceable kingdom when all the animals would live in peace together and the lion would eat straw with the ox and the wolf and the lamb would lie down together . . .”[2]

            Until the day comes when Christ reigns over this world, let us do all within our power to bring peace to our little corner of the world.

            Stan and Ollie escalated a simple attempt at a sale of a Christmas tree into a horribly insane and destructive conflict.  Christ wants us to do just the opposite.  Christ wants us to escalate the peace and love of Christmas until it leads to a world of tranquility for all God’s children.  Amen.

[1] Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1987.