Saturday, December 24, 2016
A Child Shall Lead the Way
It seems not much has changed since 701 BCE. The prophet Isaiah lived during the period when the Northern Kingdom of Israel was annexed to the Assyrian empire (2 Kings 17) The Southern Kingdom of Judah lived uneasily in its shadow as a tributary to the Assyrians (2 Chronicles 28:21).
At the time the empire was centered on the Tigris River and included what we know today as northern Iraq, northeastern Syria, southwestern Turkey and north western Iran. Isaiah was unabashed in his criticism of the leaders and the people of Judah and its tenuous relationship with God. Like the prophets Amos, Hosea, and Micah who were his contemporaries, Isaiah attacked the social injustices he saw in the midst of warring nations.
Just when all else seemed lost, Isaiah offered words of hope to the people of a messsianic king who would come and save them. Isaiah provided a vision that we have come to lay claim for ourselves as Christians.
The reign of the messianic king, Isaiah proclaims, will be one in which the disorder of nature will be restored to harmony. “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them” - a child shall lead them, a child will show the way. (Isaiah 11:6)
For the ancient Hebrews of Isaiah’s day the longing for peace is one we long for in our world today. We claim in the the birth of a child, our messianic king. But how can it be that a child shall lead the way? We rely on the strength and might of grown-ups. We want kings and emperors and presidents who will kill, destroy and crush our enemies.
Where is the strength and might in a helpless infant in a manger? And what do we know of his childhood years?
Yes, he was 12 years old when he disappeared from his parents side during the festival of the Passover in Jerusalem. “ . . . they found him sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions and all who heard him were amazed at his understanding . . . ” (Luke 2:46-47)
A messianic child? we wonder. We would rather have a messianic king, a messianic emperor, a messianic president.
But a child in a manger?
Malala Yousafzai was born in 1997 in Mingora, a city located in the Swat Valley of Pakistan. She was living under Taliban rule where girls at times were forbidden to attend school.
She started writing a blog under a pseudonym for the British Broadcasting Corporation at the age of 11 detailing what life was like and sharing her views on education for girls. Her passion earned her a lot of attention. But unfortunately, it also earned the unwarranted attention of the Taliban.
On October 9, 2012, a gunman boarded her school bus, asked for Malala by name and shot her in the head. She was left unconscious and in critical condition for the first few days after the attack. Over time she was stabilized enough for her to be sent to England to recover in safety.
She has since won Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize and was nominated for the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize- the youngest person and only girl ever to be nominated. She was nominated again in 2014 and shared the prize with Kailash Satyarthi of India.
When she accepted the award she said, “This award is not just for me. It is for those forgotten children who want an education. It is for those frightened children who want peace. It is for those voiceless children who want change.”
She is no longer a little girl but a young woman whose grown in wisdom and stature and today she remains a staunch advocate for the power of education.
It is said that after Jesus left the festival of the Passover with his parents, he “increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.” (Luke 2:52)
Over the last summer, a photo of a 5-year-old Syrian boy named Omran sitting silently in an ambulance after an air strike on Aleppo became an iconic image of the toll the war in Syria has had on its people and the ongoing refugee crisis it has created. The story is one I have shared with some of you on a Sunday morning not long after the photograph appeared in the media and a video was posted on YouTube.
Alex, a 6-year-old boy who lives just outside New York City with his mom and dad and sister Catherine saw what had happened to Omran. He sat down at their kitchen table shortly after seeing the photograph of Omran and wrote a letter to President Obama. “Can you please go get him and bring him to [my home]?” he asked. “Park in the driveway on the street and we’ll be waiting for you guys with flags, flowers and balloons. We will give him a family and he will be our brother.”
“Catherine, my little sister will be collecting butterflies and fireflies for him. In m school I have a friend from Syria, Omar, and I will introduce him to Omar and we can all play together.”
When Jesus heard that his friend Lazarus was ill, he made his way to the village of Bethany. By the time he arrived, Lazarus had already died.
It is said that upon seeing the grief of Mary and Martha who were Lazarus’ sisters, Jesus wept. (John 11:35) Those who were there said of Jesus, “See how he loved [Lazarus].” (John 11:36)
Whether or not Alex wept when he saw the photograph of Omran, we do not know. But we would not be far off the mark to say that Alex’s letter to President Obama was his expression of his love for Omran. We see in Alex a level of profound compassion that is absent in many, many adults.
And we would not be far off the mark to say that Malala’s passion for others is a sign of a level of profound courage that many of us would find difficult to muster in a grown-up world filled with violence.
Is it any wonder that a night such as this would capture our imagination and our hearts – not only for a moment but for a lifetime? We remember the courage of Malala and all the children of the world who dare to stand up against would-be messianic kings, emperors and presidents. We remember the compassion of Alex and those who would make room enough for everyone in the inn.
We remember and celebrate the birth of the child Jesus and the words of hope proclaimed by the prophet Isaiah: “They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:9)
Ke hāʻawi aku nei mākou e ke Akua i ka mahalo me ka hoʻomaikaʻi. We give thanks and praise to God. Amen.