Sunday, December 5
"...and a little child shall lead them."
There is an account of a tribe of Native Americans in the Great Lakes region who are guided in all of their decision-making for the tribe by a simple principle: What will be in the best interest of our children in three, four, or five generations? We live in a culture where there seems to be more interest in where the economy may be headed in the future. Educational reforms have as a subtext an interest in our economy being more competitive in the years to come. One wonders how our lives would be affected by decisions that reflected the best interests of the children of the world instead.
The writer of the first part of Isaiah reflects on a time when Israel was being conquered by a more powerful neighbor. All that they valued and the traditions that had served them for so long were coming to an abrupt end. The prophet indicates that their losses were a direct result of God's anger with them, but that it would not last forever. In the eleventh chapter of Isaiah the writer says, "A new branch will grow from a stump of a tree; so a new king will come..." (Isaiah 11:1, NCV). The prophet describes the new king as one with wisdom, fairness to all, and obedience to the Lord. When that is accomplished the writer describes how life will go on.
Then the wolves will live in peace with lambs,
And leopards will lie down to rest with goats.
Calves, lions, and young bulls will eat together,
And a little child shall lead them.
(Isaiah 11:6, NCV)
Something wonderful happens to many of us when we hear the words "once upon a time" or "once in a faraway place." We allow ourselves to participate in suspended disbelief. We do not question whether a "cinder girl" can have a fairy godmother or lowly animals who eagerly serve her so that she can reach her intended destiny. We do not reject outright that a princess can be awakened from a curse by a kiss, or that the youngest son of a family can find success in humility and respect of others. Our incentive in the wonderful world of make-believe is to put ourselves in a place, perhaps temporarily, where we know that eventually our heroes and heroines will "live happily ever after."
Perhaps one of the promises of Advent is that our God is coming again to a world in which our values and traditions have been sorely tested and do not serve us so well. We too have a deep desire to know that our lives are blessed and that we live in the presence of a caring and loving God. Jesus was in a conversation with some of his followers who wanted to know how to achieve greatness in the new kingdom that he promised.
Jesus called a little child to him
and stood the child before his followers.
Then he said, "I tell you the truth,
you must change and become like little children.
Otherwise, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
The greatest person in the kingdom of heaven
is the one who makes himself/herself humble like this child."
(Matthew 18:2-4, NCV)
The endearing quality of so many children "before they become corrupted" is their innocence. Their worldview is not prejudiced with cynicism or suspicion. Some are utterly amazed that anyone or anything in the world would want to cause them harm. They are especially trusting of those closest to them and bring an openness to learning that keeps the world forever fresh and inviting. Nothing is taken for granted, but each day holds new and surprising delights. When angered, children seem to let go of their resentment rather quickly and carry no grudges.
Perhaps in this Advent season we may wonder together how our decisions and our actions may impact the lives of children several generations from now. I once watched an old Baptist congregation build a family life center. The building debt was completely met before construction began because the senior citizens of the church gave so generously. They would not use its athletic facilities themselves, they would not participate in the community meetings that could be held there, but they were inspired by a vision of how they could serve the next generation.
Some of us occasionally will remark to a critic, "It takes one to know one!" Perhaps we should take that to heart. We must become as little children to really know them and to decide to participate in a world that seeks their best.
- Charlie Benton