This year, make the peaceable kingdom more than a Christmas card scene.
It’s Christmas card season again. Expect an avalanche of Renaissance Madonnas in your mailbox. And there will be angels too, of course: both the cute and chubby kind who look like escapees from Saturday morning cartoons and the long, severe, ethereal models who actually appear capable of bearing fateful tidings from God.
While neither Gallup nor Pew pollsters have ever concerned themselves with compiling the statistics, I’m pretty sure you’ll also see a good number of shepherds and kings—certainly more than you do in an average calendar month. The Star of Bethlehem will waft across many landscapes, bestowing its signature rays in the direction of a certain stable. There will be Holy Family groupings, posed solemnly for their close-up in salvation history. These images have been rendered countless times across many centuries, interpreted by artists both skilled and merely hungry.
And yes, there will be holiday-themed cards bearing evergreen trees and wreaths with bows; fat Santas and merry children building snowfolks; and far, far too many penguins and dogs. Count on it.
But I hope at least one person in your circle of family and friends gifts you with one of the most significant scenes of the Advent season: the Isaiah prophecy known as the peaceable kingdom. You’ll know this card when you see it: It’s the one with the lion and the lamb lying down together in surprisingly placid fellowship.
This visual reinstatement of the Garden of Eden is about a world restored to original innocence. While not intended as an allegory—that is, Isaiah didn’t represent individual nations by their spirit animals in this prophecy—Isaiah is very much concerned with the spirits of predator and prey that inhabit the political landscape of every generation. Some among us are ever on the prowl, looking for someone to fleece, dominate, or devour. Others prefer to live harmlessly and defencelessly, a smile our only weapon in the war of everyday encounters.
Can such lions and lambs ever nap together without cataclysm? History is dubious. But prophecy says they can. In order for such a revolution of engagement to occur, nature itself needs to be transformed.
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Alice Camille is the author of Working Toward Sainthood (Twenty-Third Publications) and other titles available at www.alicecamille.com.
With thanks to U.S. Catholic, published by the Claretian Missionaries, a Roman Catholic religious community of priests and brothers dedicated to the mission of living and spreading the gospel of Jesus.