Advent: What does it mean for children to lead and to flourish?
Today we continue the second week of Advent, focusing on the theme 'A child shall lead them' from Isaiah 11.1-10.
A little child will lead them
The village is made of simple huts, set amidst a scattering of trees. There is a well in the middle, and while some of the adults are working the land, the children are walking with the small herds of sheep and goats in the scrubland fields.
This is a picture of normal life in parts of the world today as it has been over many centuries. And it is the normalness of the image that is at the heart of Isaiah 11.1-10.
The passage offers us a picture of hope, with the rise of a new shoot from the stock of Jesse. Remember that David, Jesse’s youngest son, is first introduced to us as the one whose role was to look after the animals (see 1 Samuel 16). The passage paints for us a different future and its language clearly suggests a kind of paradise.
It is also important to realise that the hoped-for future is the present normal life made safe. It is not that a child will look after the animals that is striking, but that they will be able to do so, and so play their normal part in that society, without the threat of hostile wild animals seeking to attack them.
What consists of normal life for children in our country is of course very different, but the hope remains the same that this normality can be safe, free from hostile threats, enabling them to flourish.
What stops children today from flourishing?
Isaiah 11 goes on to remind us that this passage was read and re-read through Israel’s history, including at its bleakest moments of exile, when Israel had been defeated and her people had been taken captive. Here, when hope was at its faintest, God’s word is heard again that life can be different.
The challenge then and now is never to forget this future hope but to pay such attention to it that it shapes the here and now that we build around us. The New Testament has many echoes back to this passage, of the child who came from Jesse’s stock, in David’s line and born in David’s city, at another bleak moment in the history of God’s people, when hope was failing.
How might we be able to hold onto this hope that in God’s kingdom now normal life can be safe so all our children can flourish?
What do you think stops children today from flourishing?
What might you do to encourage the children who are part of your life, or your community, to flourish in hope?
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