A Sermon by Rev. Ian Arnold
Isaiah Chapter 11, verse 6: “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.” (Emphasis mine)
From the various pieces of evidence that have survived down through the centuries and which have come down to us – even such a thing as a letter written to his young and heavily pregnant wife by a serving Roman soldier at the time – we know that two thousand years ago children had no status; that they tended to be looked upon as commodities (just as their mothers were); that their worth was usually measured in economic terms; and that they were commonly regarded even with contempt. We know that amongst the ancient Israelites, and from the Old Testament, how severely and brutally children could be punished – unthinkably so by our standards today. And amongst the Romans unwanted children were abandoned at birth and left out in the open ‘exposed to the elements, to perish.
It is no wonder then that when on a particular occasion mothers brought their children to Jesus, to bless them, His disciples – products of their culture and of the prevailing mindset – were all for dismissing them and for not allowing them even to come near Him. It reflected what they considered to be their value and worth. They (children) could never be His priority and in any case didn’t really count in the eyes of society.
But – and as we know – Jesus would have none of this and startled as they – the disciples – must have been – He over-ruled them.
What followed is one of the most defining and enduring images we have of the Lord, welcoming and blessing little children and, importantly, highlighting qualities they possess that everyone, in fact, could do well with emulating.
“Let the little children come to me”, He said, “and do not forbid them, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 19:14
We can be certain that Jesus’ disciples, the mothers of the children, and other onlookers wouldn’t at first have been able to believe what they were hearing. And it is an episode the influence of which on attitudes to children, down through the generations and centuries since is simply incalculable.
Being wary of generalizations
With regard to the then prevailing attitudes to children, already mentioned, as with all things, we need to be wary of generalizations. I say this because here in the Old Testament there are occasional exceptions – Jacob with respect to his two cherished sons, Joseph and Benjamin, and Hannah who, we know, doted on her little boy, Samuel, are instances that come to mind.
And there is just a hint of the recognition and even the honouring of children in these words to which I have directed your attention, and my text, “…and a little child shall lead them.” The Hebrew word which is translated here as ‘little child’ suggests affection and tenderness and a good feeling, that we shouldn’t overlook or dismiss.
As for Isaiah Chapter 11, the picture painted here is one of peace and serenity, and of a little child doing remarkable and unexpected things, exercising a central influence over the situation and calming and taming what would otherwise be threatening and destructive. It is a child leading and taking things into places not known or visited before.
Children taking us into places not known or visited before
What a thought this is! Children taking us into places not known or visited before!
But this is exactly what they do for us and do for us today and do for those around them in every age and generation.
It’s what the Lord would have them do – take us into places we have not known or visited before. Take their parents; take their grandparents; take their Carers; take all who have anything to do with them; take the stranger in the street or in the Shopping Centre…into places – or states – not known or visited before.
The thing is, aware- as at times we cannot be – of the demands of parenting and what it asks for us; of the care children need; the vigilance we have to exercise; the broken nights we go through; and so on, the reality is that our relationship with children is much more of a two-way street than we stop to take in and appreciate. We do things for them, for sure. The familiar bumper sticker “Mum’s taxi” in a way says it all. The sacrifices, yes. The soiled clothes we thought we would look so good in, yes. The outings that don’t go as we planned, yes, or that we are not able to go out at all! All of these things. Yet at the same time children, unconscious as they are of it, do good and wonderful and positive things for us – leading and taking us into places, or states, and into an awareness of things, not known, guessed or visited by us before.
Saving us from ourselves
This is for sure; children take us out of ourselves. They head us off from becoming self-absorbed. They challenge us mightily to develop patience and compassion. They awaken us to the value of simple things and simple pleasures. They lead us into a renewed sense of the wonders of the world around us. They take us into their world of guilelessness, honesty and transparency which, as adults, we are so adept at side-stepping. They upend our priorities. They have no image of themselves of which they are conscious and which they are pursuing. And isn’t it wonderful, too, the way they lead their parents to re-think God and spiritual things? “Who made me., daddy?” “Who made the world, Mummy?” “Where did Grandpa go when he died?”
And it is not that they always have to actually ask the questions!
I have seen the parents of new borns, young Dads and Mums, who hadn’t given much thought to it previously, now overwhelmed with the miracle of the new arrival and their thoughts being opened up to the Lord having been involved in the process after all. Within minutes of arriving in the world, a little one is already leading them.
Tough – but a privilege
I received a Fathers Day card this year, splashed across the front of it words about parenting being “a tough job”! (I’m glad this son now knows it to be so!)
But let’s not over emphasize this side of things. We give out, but receive so much in return; benefiting in incredible ways and, like we’ve noted, are brought to changes in ourselves and to the development of qualities that are to our eternal benefit. (So very much more than we really know children are an instrument in the Lord’s hands through which He leads us to heavenly things and heavenly life).
And there is this, as well: the key, pivotal, influence that as parents we have and are privileged to be.
The thing is, our children arrive in this world with wonderful potential, neither intrinsically good nor intrinsically evil; and the type of person they become as adults all lies ahead of them and will be the result of choices they then consciously make.
They, like us, are receptors of influences that, on the one hand, awaken selflessness and consideration of others and, on the other hand, influences that awaken selfishness and mean-mindedness.
As adults, we are continuously challenged to choose between these influences.
As for children, they need help, guidance, direction and support to manage these opposites in whatever way they come at them, from within or from without.
And really, in a nutshell, this is what infant Baptism is all about: a commitment from the parents to give this help, guidance, direction and support, not only that their child might enjoy as acceptable and as good a life as possible in this world, but also – and even more importantly – that the child should in time personally connect with the Lord and open up his or her life to the qualities He urges and presses on us.
Parents cannot guarantee that outcome. But they can resource, nurture and profoundly influence their children that it is at least a strong possibility.
Children in the world and the child in us.
If, in a survey, people are asked what it is that most draws them to children, the answer, almost always, is their innocence. Infants and very young children (and please note my stress on the very young!) love and trust their parents: it’s where their security lies. (Try taking a children away from a parent, for a moment or for an overnight stay and we soon learn how important that security is). They fall in with family plans and don’t as yet read the world through the prism of self. They have no sense of image and impressing others doesn’t cross their minds. They live in the moment. Yesterday and tomorrow are too big for them to get their minds around. It’s only “now” that matters.
Because of this, and in the Bible, they are a symbol of the child in us.
The child in us is our trust in God and the sense of security we can enjoy in our relationship with Him.
The child in us is our increasing ability to live in the moment; not raking over the past or stressing about the future.
The child in us is to let go of image and our anxiety about the impression we are making.
The child in us is our deference to the Lord; to His ways; to His standards and His values. THIS is innocence. THIS is the child in us. THIS is what it means to be led by the Lord.
And it is this child in us; this innocence; that renders harmless those things so capable of spiritually destroying us – all held up to us here, similarly symbolically, as the wolf, the leopard and the young lion.
These wild animals are the criticisms and the complaints; the doubts and the fears; the anger and the contempt; the envy and the pride; the disappointments and the set-backs, which lurk in our as yet unregenerate natures.
And the child in us is what neutralizes them and controls and leads them.
May all our dealings with children contribute to the growth and strengthening of what in teenage years and adulthood will be the child in them so that they come to know peace and harmony – as we can – and receive into their lives the blessings of heaven.
“The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.
John Chapter 13: verses 34 & 35
Isaiah Chapter 11: verses 1 to 9
Arcana Coelestia 10134:2
“The reasons why the removal of evils, and the implantation of goodness and truth and the joining together of these, is accomplished by means of the good of innocence from the Lord is that all good, if it is to be good, must have innocence within it. Without it good is not good, for innocence is not only the ground in which truths are sown but also the very essence of good. Therefore how far a person possesses innocence determines how far his good becomes good and his truth has life from good, consequently how far he is endowed with life and the evils present with him are removed.”
Heaven and Hell 341
“Innocence is the receptacle of all things of heaven.”