The Christmas Promise

Nathan Hackman

This year I’ve been participating in Biola University’s Advent Calendar. Each day we are invited to reflect on the season through a piece of scripture, poetry, prose, music, and a work of physical art. This morning we were presented with John August Swanson’s Peaceable Kingdom, representing Isaiah 11 and the “wolf lying down with the lamb.”At the center of the night scene is a young boy, holding a small light in an open meadow, surrounded by animals. Off in the distance, others roam a forest path, following the direction of their own light; but save these few wanderers, the forest is empty. They wander alone, but the meadow is exploding with life. Roaming eyes cannot find a place to rest which is not already occupied by some creature, drawn to the light of the little one. What a menagerie it is! Swallows swoop and play while owls perch and watch from the trees. A peacock nestles by the warm rump of a lion. A raccoon playfully sniffs at a viper. At every turn, a situation which this world tells us is full of danger is possessed with a sense of joy and community. All the while, the small light of the small boy spreads illumination further than seems possible, and all of these new-found animal friends frolic in its glow.   I sat staring at the painting and listening to the musical selection for the morning, when my little Adam trundled over and climbed up into my lap. I removed one of my ear-buds and held it to his ear. He looked at me in surprise, then his face lit in a smile. He also took in the painting, and began pointing and exclaiming as he picked out first a horse, then a chicken, then a monkey: “Dat! . . . Dat! . . . Oooooh, Dat!”         This is the promise of Christmas: the breakthrough of child, not from a different time or place, but from the land of light, and he, shining in the darkness, calls out to creation to come and dance and sing in his glow. Here we find the dangers and enmities of the world melt away. The slave is our brother. The enemy is our friend. And in that we find a joy which we did not know. The strong embrace of the bear gives the warmth for which we’ve yearned. The hawk and rabbit are the playmates each has always desired. Off in the distance, the Philistines turn their backs on the carnival, using their own lights to peek into the wasteland, proclaiming that their imagined salvation is around the next corner, under the next bush; but the thing they’ve been seeking is not somewhere ahead. It has already arrived. There in the meadow, around the light of the child, a new kingdom has been born. Those of us who submit to the draw of the light are asked only to dance and play, to celebrate the light of the son, and revel in the oddity of it all, “Dat! . . . Dat! . . . Ooooh, Dat!”