Pointing to What We Can Not Yet See

Isaiah is one of the great prophets and a wonderful one for Advent.  During Advent, we typically hear from the Book of Isaiah for our first Mass reading.  Today’s is one of my favorite: Isaiah’s vision that:

Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid. The calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them. The cow and the bear shall be neighbors, together their young shall rest; the lion shall eat hay like the ox. The baby shall play by the cobra’s den, and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair.

Huh? A wolf the guest of a lamb? A calf browsing with a lion? A baby playing in a cobra’s den? Crazy stuff! That can’t happen, our rational mind says.

But if I can’t imagine it, it can’t happen. The first step toward a better future is imagining that it can exist. To believe that that the unthinkable is possible. If our starting point is that it is impossible, it will be impossible. Who knows what would be possible if we were able to imagine a future where Isaiah’s prophesy was true!

Perhaps we should be more willing to sit with Isaiah’s vision without dismissing it as impossible. Or to frame it as Pope Francis once did, “Our faith is challenged to discern how wine can come from water and how wheat can grow in the midst of weeds.” (Neither of which seems a whole lot less outlandish than a lion hanging out with a lamb.) As the Pope said, “that we are more realistic must not mean that we are any less trusting in the Spirit…Nobody can go off to battle unless he is fully convinced of victory beforehand. If we start without confidence, we have already lost half the battle and we bury our talents.”

Seeing what is not yet here is precisely what our Christian hope is about.

In secular language, the theme for Senator Robert F. Kennedy’a  1968 campaign for the U.S. presidential nomination was: “Some men see things as they are and say, why; I dream things that never were and say, why not.”  We are called to do the same.

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