Reflection Advent 2 : Dec 8

Let us pause for a moment in prayer…

Gracious God,
with prophets through the ages
we dream of a world of peace and justice.
We share Isaiah’s vision,
echoed by John the Baptist,
of making crooked paths straight
and of making a smooth highway
broad enough for all your people
to walk together in peace.
May we have the desire,
willingness and courage
to be part of making that dream a reality.
We boldly pray in the name of Jesus,
the Prince of Peace. Amen

In the past few weeks, the theme of peace has been interwoven into our worship services through a variety of scripture passages. November 17th we heard Isaiah’s hopeful promise from God: “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth…The wolf and the lamb shall feed together…They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain…” (Isaiah 65:17, 25)

November 24th we heard promising words from Luke’s Gospel: “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.(Luke 1:78-79)

Last week, December 1st, Isaiah proclaimed, “God shall judge between nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. …come, let us walk in the light of God!”(Isaiah 2:4-5) And, this morning, we heard words of hope from the prophet Isaiah, “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.” (Isaiah 11:6, my emphasis)

All week, as I was reflecting on the scripture passages for this week, these simple and yet amazing words echoed in my mind -“and a little child shall lead them”. In this Season of Advent, when we wait with hopeful anticipation for the birth of the Christ-Child, it is not surprising that Isaiah’s words would ring out boldly and catch our attention. Isaiah is prophesying a time when God’s realm of peace and justice will come to fruition. It will not be a military hero who symbolizes God’s love and teaches the people God’s ways of peace. Isaiah boldly states that it will be a little child whose birth heralds God’s hope for the world. It will be a little child whose life will unfold and lead the people in God’s way of peace.

Anyone who has held a newborn child and gazed lovingly upon their countenance knows of the miracle of the birth (and rebirth) of the mystical quality of love. Love softens the heart and transforms actions in ways that are wondrous to behold.

Jesus knew that children were beloved and were a portal to the pure light of God’s love. This may not seem radical to us but in the 1st century Mediterranean world, where children were not viewed as persons but merely as household chattels, Jesus’ recognition and valuing of children was remarkable. You may remember that when children gathered around Jesus eager to hear his stories and to bask in his loving attention that his disciples chastized the children for bothering their Lord. Jesus’ response was quick and he told them clearly,“Let the little children come to me…for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.” (Mark 10:14) Another time when the disciples asked Jesus, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus called a child to come to him and he put the child in the midst of the disciples and said, “Truly, I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:1-3)

Children often remind us of the values that we have taught them. They help us to remember to act upon our beliefs and values. It is prudent to heed the wisdom of children who are young and idealistic enough not to have become jaded by the cruelties and injustices of the world. They teach us that anything is possible if you act on your beliefs and do what you can to act peacefully for the common good.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this in the last few days and remembering the children who have enriched my own life. I’ve also been thinking of some of the children who have enriched the life of the world in the last 30 years. You may remember a 10 year old girl named Samantha who lived in the United States during a time of great tension between the United States and Russia. The year was 1982. Yuri Andropov was the new president of Russia and Ronald Reagan was the president of the United States. Nuclear armaments were being amassed by both countries. Large anti-nuclear protests were common in Europe and North America during this time and there was great fear about the possibility of nuclear war. Time magazine published an issue with Yuri Andropov on the cover with an article about concerns about the intent and policies of the new Russian president. Referring to the Time magazine photo, ten year old, Samantha, asked her mother, “If People are so afraid of him, why doesn’t someone write a letter asking whether he wants to have a war or not?” Samantha’s mother replied, “Why don’t you?” And so, Samantha wrote:

Dear Mr. Andropov,
My name is Samantha Smith. I am ten years old. Congratulations on your new job. I have been worrying about Russia and the United States getting into a nuclear war. Are you going to vote to have a war or not?
If you aren’t please tell me how you are going to help to not have a war. This question you do not have to answer, but I would like to know why you want to conquer the world or at least our country. God made the world for us to live together in peace and not to fight.

Sincerley, Samantha Smith

Yuri Andropov wrote a long response to Samantha’s letter and he invited Samantha to come “…and see for yourself: in the Soviet Union, everyone is for peace and friendship among peoples.”

Samantha Smith did go to the Soviet Union and was a very effective ambassador for peace. She discovered that Russians were people very much like Americans and that citizens of both countries had a desire for peace and not war.

And a little child shall lead them…

You my also recall that in 1995, a twelve year old Canadian boy named Craig Kielburger, saw a headline in the Toronto Star newspaper about a twelve year old Pakistani boy who had been murdered because of his outspoken criticism of child labour. Craig began researching the subject of child labour and formed a group called the Twelve-Twelve-Year-Olds. This group evolved into ‘Free the Children”, an international organization that now includes 45 participating countries.

And a little child shall lead them…

In 1998 a boy in Grade One, named Ryan, learned in school that some people in the world were sick and dying because of a lack of clean water. He learned that some people in Africa walked for hours to get water that wasn’t always clean. That knowledge, and a desire to make a difference, was the beginning of what is now an internationally aclaimed program called the Ryan’s Well Foundation. Today, Ryan says, “My advice to anyone is that in order to make a positive change in the world, you need to find something you are passionate about and then you need to take steps to act.”

And a little child shall lead them…

More recently, in 2009, the world learned about living conditions in the Swat Valley under Taliban rule from an eleven year old girl, named Malala. Girls were often banned by the Taliban from attending school and Malala became an outspoken advocate for child education. The Taliban attempted to assasinate Malala in order to silence her. She was shot and badly injured but she did survive and has continued to be a fearless advocate for the rights of children.

And a little child shall lead them…

These are just a sampling of stories of hope and peace that have involved children as leaders and guides.

One last thing I want to mention this morning is a program that has been adopted by many Canadian schools that is the most hopeful thing I’ve heard about in a long time. The program is based on research by Canadian educator, Mary Gordon, entitled “Roots of Empathy: Changing the World Child by Child”. This program is designed for children from Kindergarten to Grade 8. The aim of the program is to reduce levels of aggression by increasing empathy toward others. Empathy involves getting in touch with one’s own feelings and understanding the feelings of others around you. The mission of the Roots of Empathy program is to, “build caring, peaceful, and civil societies through the development of empathy”. Roots of Empathy focuses on raising levels of empathy, resulting in more respectful and caring relationships and reduced levels of bullying and aggression.” (Quote from Roots of Empathy website)

You might wonder how this goal is accomplished. Trained educators are important to the program but the teachers that are essential to the success of the program are babies. A parent and baby that is 2-4 months old at the beginning of the school year is matched with a classroom. Throughout the school year the baby visits the classroom regularly as part of the school’s curriculum. The children see the baby grow and develop and learn to identify the baby’s needs and emotions. Empathy is developed and caring, loving and peaceful actions are nurtured.

And a little child shall lead them…

In this Advent season may we listen to the wisdom of the child within us and the wisdom of the children in the world around us. And, may the promise of the Christ-Child sustain our hope and guide our feet in the way of peace.

May it be so this day and always.

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