My favorite part of Advent is getting to dust off that old Book of Isaiah. Isaiah’s prophecies of the coming kingdom paint a picture of peace and harmony better than anything we could imagine.
“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.”
Isaiah 11:1, 6
A Harmless Future?
Isaiah describes a coming messiah whose reign will bring about absolute peace, where the label of “enemy” is completely dissolved. In this kingdom, predators and prey live in peace and all fears of insecurity are removed. In this kingdom, the enemies of Israel will be rendered harmless.
It’s a nice image isn’t it? Some place far away in the future where all of our enemies are rendered harmless, and we live in peace. It’s straight out of a beauty pageant speech.
What Kind of Waiting?
It seems so foreign that we assume this peaceful kingdom is something for which we must simply wait. It’s a nice image of heaven that will come some day when Jesus comes back, but it has no bearing on our daily lives.
Passively waiting is not what Scripture teaches. A kingdom without enemies is already here. We are invited to participate in ushering it in.
Jesus says in his sermon on the mount, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”
This Advent season we remember the oppressed people of Israel desperate for a messiah. The people of God were expecting a political and militaristic Messiah, a great king with infinite power and wealth.
What they got was far greater. What they got was a messiah who did not usher in peace with an iron fist, but rather with love for his enemy and a willingness to die for the ones who persecuted him.
The people of Israel were waiting for a war hero, but war cannot bring absolute peace. War only brings temporary ceasefire. You can bind your enemies and have peace, but eventually the bindings will be loosed and peace will cease.
The only way to bring about absolute peace is through the radical enemy love of Jesus. Jesus comes and has the audacity to say to the oppressed people of God, love your enemies.
Loving your enemy is the key to the kingdom where wolves and lamb live together. This key is right there in plain sight. It is one of the greatest treasures, but few will find it.
Loving Your Enemies in The County Jail
I’ve met a few people that have found it.
Every Wednesday morning I go into the county jail to meet with our little fresh expressions of church that are forming on the inside.
A few months ago, we talked about compassion with the men there. One of our discussion questions asked, “Who do you have trouble being compassionate towards?” One young man, an alleged drug dealer, who had come to faith in jail, shared that a close friend had wronged him in a terrible way.
He said, “Normally I’d just shoot him, I’ve shot people before.” My eyes are getting big at this point. He continued, “But I’ve been reading this Bible and trying to follow this God, so I’ve been praying for him instead. What is that?” he concluded with a smile.
This young man, an infant in the faith, immediately recognized the importance of loving his enemy. He knew the old way wasn’t working, and he was willing to give love a try.
Hate Begets Hate
Every day we witness the vicious cycle of hatred: gang related murders committed in retaliation of other murders, wars won only to give birth to new wars, horrific acts of terrorism overseas leading to hate crimes against innocent Muslim Americans at home.
Martin Luther King Jr. in his sermon on loving enemies declared, “Men must see that force begets force, hate begets hate, toughness begets toughness. And it is all a descending spiral, ultimately ending in destruction for all and everybody. Somebody must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate and the chain of evil in the universe. And you do that by love.”
Hatred for our enemy will never bring about the future kingdom of peace. Only divine love can. Not the shallow love of a middle school romance, but the deep love that wishes good for another.
Quit the Enemy Obsession
It seems that American Christianity has gotten into the habit of hating our enemies. It feels like every week we have identified a new enemy: Atheist professors, Syrian refugees, Starbucks and their red cups. It’s getting ridiculous. Our leaders, disturbed by the loss of Christian values in popular culture, use fear and hatred of our enemies as their only solution to bringing back the glory days of “Leave It to Beaver” America.
Fear and hatred are not the way of Christ. Followers of Christ are not united in fear of the other, but in love for all. The gospel of Jesus Christ declares that all are beloved, even the ones who disagree with us, even the one who hurt us.
It’s unfathomable that we have let the Christian faith be hijacked by powerful men and women who would have us united in hatred and war against our enemy.
This advent, love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, let the holy spirit clean up your hearts of any hatred that lies beneath, let the hatred go, and replace it with sacrificial love for everyone, even the most despicable.
Practice loving your enemies this Advent. Share a table with someone whom you would never have imagined sharing. Bring a gift to a neighbor with whom you’ve never spoken. Make a donation to a non-profit working with those who make you uncomfortable. Make peace with a friend or relative that hurt you long ago.
The key to the kingdom where wolf and lamb live in harmony is sitting before us. God has rendered our enemies harmless.
It is no easy task to love your enemies. It might be the hardest thing you ever do. Oh, but if we were willing to let God move in us! If we were willing to let him help us to love our enemies, I know that we would soon follow that little child into that Promised Land where the wolf lives with the lamb in eternal peace.
Luke Edwards is the Associate Director of Church Development for the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church and a trainer for Fresh Expressions US. He was the founding pastor of King Street Church, a network of fresh expressions in Boone, NC. Participating in local, regional, and national levels of the Fresh Expressions movement has given Luke a unique perspective into the future of the mainline church in a post-Christian society. You can follow him on twitter at @lukesedwards or check out his blog A Way in the Wilderness (http://www.awitw.org).