Of Wolves and Lambs and Woody Allen

“The wolf will live with the lamb,
and the leopard will lie down with the young goat;
the calf and the young lion will feed together,
and a little child will lead them.”

                        (Isaiah 10:6, Common English Bible)

Commenting on this passage (and misquoting), Woody Allen once quipped, “The wolf may lie down with the lamb, but the lamb will not get a good night’s sleep.”

It is hard to let go of age-old animosities. They never seem to go away.  They seem to be woven into the fabric of our families and communities; we can’t imagine being without them.

Isaiah, the Hebrew prophet we most closely associate with the story of Jesus’ birth, knew well the hold the past has on us, those ancient stories of war and distrust, and how easily we are set against one another by those who play on our fears and incite us to draw bright lines between us and them. Here, he dares to describe God’s vision of a peaceable kingdom, God’s dream not just for the humanity, but for all creation. Yet, given past events, I wonder if anyone listening to Isaiah could imagine this being true or coming true. They knew wolves all too well.

Is it any wonder early Christian communities found in Isaiah’s words an invitation they were eager to accept? Despite the way things had always been, they embraced a new vision of what their life together could become because of the advent of Jesus Christ who proclaimed the nearness of this very kingdom which Isaiah foresaw. In this new life, they could put aside old animosities and form communities not built on old tribal identities but on their common identity as followers of Jesus. And they could move out into their neighborhoods with the good news of what Christ was doing among them as they learned to love one another, to forgive and be reconciled.

As we journey through the coming darkening days of December and endure the longest night of the year, we will come soon, as the days begin to lengthen, to Christmas day and to Jesus, the child of the Bethlehem. And, despite all the good cheer and good feelings we know we are supposed to have, we may be, like Woody Allen, a little skeptical. Despite the herald angel’s song, the shepherds and the magi, what, if anything, will truly change? After all the hubbub, won’t we just be the same way we were before? Maybe. Maybe not.

A wise man told me once that you have to say goodbye before you can say hello. Dare we say goodbye to the way things have always been? Only then will we be free to say hello to new ways of being with one another.  Here’s an invitation: say goodbye to some ancient animosity in your life.  And when you’ve let it go, when you’ve done what you need to do, the work of forgiveness and reconciliation, you will be ready to say hello to Mary’s little boy, to Jesus, as you’ve never done before.