Weird, in a delightful and refreshing way
December 4, 1016
Rev. Michael A. Trask
I was about 2 1/2 years old, my father and I went to visit turkey farm together. My dad was good husband and father and I think he was giving my mom a break as she was near the end of her pregnancy with my younger sister and needed a break from the highly ambulatory me.
Dad was a loan officer at the kenabic State Bank in Mora Minnesota as part of his job he had to go out to visit a Turkey Farmer and see how he was doing. I guess he thought I would like to see some turkeys. So as he was talking to the Farmer he set me down in on the ground, with him in one of the Turkey pens.
Now Turkeys are about as tall and often quite a bit taller than most 2 1/2 year old boys; and certain breeds of Turkeys, particularly the toms can get pretty aggressive. To them, I was like fresh meat in their Turkey prison and the they were thinking that they needed to show me who’s boss.
Opportunity soon came when My father was distracted and walked just a short distance away as the farmer who was pointing at big metal funnel things… which I know now are a type of feeding system…probably the very thing that my dad’s bank had financed. But as they talked about the funnels the turkeys moved closer and closer, forming a circle around me; looking at me with their soulless turkey eyes.
I didn’t know much at the age of 2 1/2 but I knew enough be be frighted…. I let out a little yelp of distress and before you know it, the farmer came with a stick and my dad swooped in for the rescue.
So thanksgiving is more significant to me than most. Not only is it a day for giving thanks to God for the bounties of the earth, but its also a kind of victory celebration. A Roasted Turkey sitting there on the table means that I will never be oppressed by tyrannical turkeys again!
So why did the turkey’s act that way? That’s what they do. It’s who they are. I’ve heard that wild turkeys are even more aggressive. They’re like the mad max version of the domesticated of the domesticated turkeys which I encountered.…… It’s what they do. It’s in their nature. Many other animals are the same in that way. They can be territorial, hyper alert, over protective, tyrannical and some even appear psychotic when enraged.
How refreshingly odd then is our reading from Isaiah today. It says in verse 8 “A nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and a weaned child shall put his hand in the den of an adder.” Speaking as a parent I cannot think of a more frightening scenario than one my kids as infants sticking their hands in a snakes den. The people who first heard this from Isaiah probably witnessed something like this first hand and perhaps knew people who had lost children in this way. I cannot think of anything worse. Much more danger than a group of domesticated turkeys! And yet the point of this telling is that nothing’s going to happen. No rescuing father or farmer with a stick is needed. The snakes don’t bite and they won’t bite. Weird!
But there’s more: Wolves dwelling with lambs? leopards with young goats? Fatted calf hanging out with lions? Vegetarian Lions? What is this fanciful talk? What weird sort of weirdness is this? It’s God through his prophet telling us something in a way that we can understand. It’s God revealing the profound extent of the salvation which he has prepared for us in his Son. Nature will be changed. And not just the nature of animals, but the nature of man. He says “They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain.” He’s talking about people there.
This is it. This is what all of us, all of humanity, has been wanting for always. We want a better world. A world that has changed in this manner that Isaiah describes. A world without hatred and war. A world that is safe. A world where people behave decently towards one another. We want that and we errantly expect our government to deliver that for us. But The most a government can do is be the farmer with the stick who keeps the aggressive turkeys from acting abusively. No government can make a man love rather than hate, be generous rather than greedy. Government cannot change what’s inside of man, only the Creator of man can do that. And that’s what Isaiah is talking about here….the creator who came to change the nature of man.
He introduces this one in yet another weird occurance. A shoot growing out of an old rotten stump named Jesse. It looked like their was no life left in the old stump, it looked quite dead. But miraculously there came a branch out of the center of it, a branch that flourished and produced much fruit!
Who’s this Jesse fellow and why is he a stump? He’s father of King David and therefore also the Father of the Kings of Israel. His tree was a family tree representing all the the Kings of Israel, now sawed off and dead. T he descendants of Jesse were meant to be a fruitful tree giving shelter to the whole world….but they were overcome with sin. There was nothing good left in them….demonstrating once again that human government cannot really change what is in man, because human governments are made up of men who are also corrupt. The family tree of Jesus and David was now a stump. The hope of Israel and of the world seemed to be lost.
But wait, out of that stump, grows a branch. Jesus was a descendant of David and therefore also a descendant of Jesse. Miraculously he would appear A baby would be born to a young woman who was a descendant of Jesse. He would be laid in a manger, in Bethlehem, the city David son of Jesse. The hopes of Israel and the hopes of all mankind, for that matter, would be made alive again. For the author of life would there bind himself to humanity by becoming one of us in Christ.
And the branch would be fruitful. Like no one before him, Jesus would make it possible for the the ailing heart of man to be reached and changed. That’s the thing about Jesus, he would work not by laws or by armies or by swords and guns or by suppression of the masses, he would work gently in the heart of man, leading him to renounce the sin of his heart and seek forgiveness and new life.
“O come, Thou branch of Jesse’s tree,“Free them from Satan’s Tryanny.” we sang in today’s hymn that’s what Jesus came to do. To free us. Satan’s Tyranny is the sin that he introduced and now influences the human heart and causes all the hurtful things we see in the world… all of the hate, the arrogance, bad attitudes, the violence….From this Jesus would give us release, by taking our sins to the cross with him.
So all that weirdness that we read in Isaiah: the wolf laying next to lamb and not eating it; leopards lying with goats and not eating them. This change of nature is really an image of what God would do for our hearts in Jesus and a description of the attitude of heaven. The difference of our future life in the presence of God will be so striking that we will find it quite weird…. but it will be weird in a refreshing and delightful way.
You can start being weird right now, in a refreshing and delightful way. Since your heart has been instructed by the this branch of Jesse you have been made aware of the problem in your heart. You’ve also learned that you are free to confess this problem and begin to overcome the sin that would otherwise lead to you to think and do what is wrong. It is a life-long struggle and part of our calling in Christ.
To the world we will sometimes seem weird but in a refreshing and delightful way. We will mystify people who have grown to feel like the little kid surrounded by soulless turkeys by showing them kindness. We will bamboozle them when they see that we don’t see them as objects to be used but as people to be served and helped people who are valuable to God. Such are the changes that can take place in our hearts even now. Such are the changes that will take place fully when we at last arrive in the hereafter.
In all of these weirdly peaceful animals, Isaiah is explaining the qualitative difference that Christ makes in the heart of man in the now time and in his fuller experience of heaven in the future. AMEN