By Stacey Kohl
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.
As a lifelong animal lover, today’s reading from the book of Isaiah holds a special place in my heart. Most of us are well acquainted with the imagery of the lion and the lamb lying together—the lion curled protectively around the innocent lamb. The prophet doesn’t stop there though. He adds on the image of a doe-eyed baby cow lying nose to nose with the king of the jungle. And as if those two images aren’t enough, he takes it one step further and presents to us the image of the doe-eyed calf’s mother, a gentle cow with the same long eyelashes as her calf, lying curled up beside an enormous grizzly bear. The result of all these images is, perhaps, the world’s first “unlikely animal friends” video.
I’m sure you’re wondering, at this point, what on earth all of this has to do with the Advent season and, even more so, what it has to do with hope. After all, “unlikely animal friendships” while cute, are not most people’s “go-to” imagery for the Advent season. But, perhaps, there is more to this imagery than meets the eye.
Our world is a place filled with strife. It’s hard, these days, to escape the constant barrage of depressing news—war in Syria, fires in Tennessee, racist attacks on men and women across the country, the desperate work of the water protestors at Standing Rock—the list goes on and on. Sadly, this isn’t a new pattern, its one deeply familiar to the human race; one in which war, violence, and hatred seem to reign. It is into this same dark world that the prophet presents his picture of the world to come. A picture of a world where predator and prey lie down together in peace. This, however, is not just a “cute animal friends” moment; it is truly a world turned upside down.
The picture of the world the prophet paints is one in which the very nature of creation has been transformed. The deepest inclination of the lion to eat the lamb or the calf, of the bear to destroy the cow, of the powerful to crush the weak, has been overcome.
It is this world, this lion and lamb, cow and bear world, that lives at the heart of Advent. It is this world we long for…dream for…hope for…watch for…and, if we look closely enough, can already see glimpses of in the most unexpected of places.