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Lions at LIberty in Doncaster!

Isaiah 11.1-10
Matthew 3.1-12

The Prophet Isaiah talks about a new kind of leader or king who will be sent by God one day to bring about a new age of world peace. This is symbolised in the reading by the idea of all sorts of unlikely animals eating and sleeping side by side without harming one another, and a little child reaching its hand into a hole where a poisonous snake is lurking and yet not being hurt in the slightest.

I’m not sure how seriously we’re meant to take the prophet's vision. Lions wouldn’t be lions if they didn’t eat meat, and calves and lambs wouldn’t be calves and lambs if they didn’t sometimes get eaten. That’s the way nature works and it’s always puzzled Christians why nature has to be so cruel. But it would be nice to imagine a future where we all become vegetarians - even lions and tigers and wolves!

Christians certainly believe that one day Jesus will come back to earth to put everything right and stop all the violence and wars. In that sense the vision will come true. So perhaps all the savagery of nature will be tamed by Jesus too. Until that happens, we believe that we’re called to work with God to make the world more peaceful and Advent - the four weeks before Christmas - is a time when we remind ourselves about that challenge. What better sign of peace could there be than a Christmas paper chain made up of people holding hands with one another?

When I told someone that today’s Bible reading was about lions lying down with calves and eating straw with oxen they said, ‘Well did you know there’s a pride of lions in Doncaster!? I’m not quite sure why they said that! It was as if they thought the lions are wandering round the streets there. Which might explain why someone told me on the phone that they had been helping out in the main post office during the week but it had been totally quiet, with hardly any customers at all. No wonder if they have to run the risk of bumping into a hungry lion!

But, actually, of course, although there are lions in Doncaster, they’re fenced in! They were rescued from a zoo in Romania, which couldn’t afford to look after them, and brought to the Yorkshire Wildlife Park. This is a picture of the leader of the pride, who’s called Cezar.

I guess we’ll have to wait a bit longer for the time when leopards will lie down with young goats, and bears and cows will share the same pasture! But, as I said before, Christians do believe that Jesus is the promised Prince of Peace.

John the Baptist urged his listeners to get ready for Jesus’ coming. ‘Prepare the way of the Lord,’ he said. And that’s our job, too. Partly to prepare to celebrate Jesus’ coming at Christmas, by making paper chains and putting up decorations. That’s a celebration of the past, of course! But also to prepare for a future when real peace will be established by Jesus at the end of human history. And the way we’re supposed to prepare for that time is by working for peace and justice in the world now.

An American senator said last week that we didn’t have to worry about the future of the world, because God is taking care of it. But he was wrong. We’re supposed to take care of the future with God.


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