“. . . and a little child shall lead them.”
Have you ever noticed the importance children play in history? When King Henry the Eighth of England and his queen couldn’t have a baby, he divorced her, made another woman queen and tried again. No baby resulted. Desperate for a male heir, Henry divorced and remarried yet another time. By now the pope of the Catholic church said, “Enough!” So, King Henry split with Rome and helped found the Anglican Church.
Babies also play an important role in painting. Who could ever forget the marvelous children painted by Mary Cassatt, the American impressionist?
And what about children in literature? Remember George Elliot’s Silas Marner? A bachelor, old and miserly, finds a child asleep at his fireside. He takes him in and is forever changed.
A favorite story of mine is by Bret Hart. Born in Albany, N.Y., Hart moved west at age 17. There he began to chronicle the wild west in short stories. In 1868 he published, “The Luck of Roaring Camp.” It’s about a tough mining town appropriately named, “Roaring Camp.” There men panned for gold, gambled, drank and learned the art of quick fists and the fast draw.
Sally was the only girl in town. And she was everybody’s woman. She got pregnant, but died in childbirth, leaving behind a healthy baby.
Who was the father? The little one, indeed, belonged to all of the miners. So, they decided to do their duty by the child.
But where would the child sleep? A miner went 80 miles over the mountain to fetch a Rosewood cradle.
And what would keep the child warm? Wool blankets were too rough! Lace and silk blankets were ordered. And how could a child eat beans and bacon and sourdough? They bought a cow for milk. And one of the miners took up farming.
And how could a child live in a filthy, run down shack? Walls were painted, floors cleaned and windows washed.
But, of course, no cursing, dirty miner could hold a baby! So the miners quit swearing. They took baths and began to dress better.
And how could a baby nap with the saloon piano blaring? With rowdy men shouting and brawling? A time of quiet was decreed each day so the child could sleep.
One day they decided to show the child the mines. Yet somehow the pit seemed too dark and dingy. So they planted flowers, put up street lamps and planked the walkways.
Little by little Roaring Camp lost it’s reputation for toughness and became a decent place to live. And so a little child born into a rough mining camp cleaned up the place. What a story! But, sadly, it is fiction. Yet the Bible tells us a nativity story that is fact, the story of the birth of Jesus Christ.
Infant Jesus was born into our tough mining camp of a world.
His was a world of mad King Herods, unjust taxes, a political rule of force and violence, prostitution, superstition, racial hatred, and drunkenness. And yet. . . and yet Isaiah prophesied that because Christ was born among us “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. . ..”
When Christ was born people settled their differences on the battlefield. Nations bullied one another. Might made right. Force and violence ruled the day.
One hundred thirty-seven years ago our nation struggled through a civil war. Just north of here the Shenandoah Valley served as the breadbasket of the Confederacy and Lee’s back door to Washington.
General U.S. Grant ordered Phillip Sheridan to seize the valley and burn it so that a crow flying through it would find nothing to eat. So it was that little Phil came with over 30,000 Yankee soldiers. Rebel General Jubal Early opposed him with only 10,000 men. And for 90 days 40,000 men tried to kill each other.
The final place they clashed was Cedar Creek, Virginia. All night the rebels had marched secretly around the Union loft. Then, half an hour before sunrise, the rebels attacked. With a scorching fire they charged out of the fog giving their chilling rebel yell.
The Federalists were shattered. Their line rolled up like a carpet. Four hundred raw recruits from New York made a stand on a hill top. And this is what one soldier wrote in his diary about what he saw. “Here one of our boys, Anthony Riley, was shot and killed. His father Charles Riley was by his side. The blood and brains of his son covered the face and hands of the father. I never saw a more affecting sight than this; the poor old man kneels over the body of his dead son, his tears mingled with his son’s blood. O God! What a sight. . . Riley leaned down one more time, kissed Anthony’s cheek, and joined his retreating comrades.”
During this tragic period of our nation’s history, a young boy, child of a Presbyterian preacher, witnessed the aftermath of battle in a Confederate hospital. War’s horrors deeply affected him. Later he became a Christian, the president of Princeton University, an elder in the church, and, finally, president of the United States. His name? Woodrow Wilson. Knowing war’s awful cost, President Wilson kept us out of World War I as long as possible. Then he said we would “fight the war to end all wars.” And to insure people would stop settling their differences on the battlefield, he envisioned the “League of Nations.” Man now had a new option–diplomacy, reconciliation, justice, a chance to talk it out, to turn the cheek, to go the second mile, to exercise self-control.
Diplomacy Instead of War? “And a little child shall lead them.”
When Jesus was born most people were slaves. They were owned by another human being, treated as common property. Dehumanized.
Then in 1759 William Wilberforce was born to live his 74 years an Englishman. A Christian, Wilberforce graduated from Cambridge and won a seat in Parliament at age 21.
By 28 he’d begun a campaign against slavery. Two years later Parliament passed a bill condemning slavery. By age 33, the year was 1792, he got a bill passed which gradually abolished slavery. Then in 1807 both houses of Parliament voted an immediate end to slavery in Great Britain.
Now Wilberforce worked to rid the British empire of slavery. He worked tirelessly until 1825. Failing health forced his retirement from Parliament. He died in 1833.
Two weeks after his death his bill became law. Where the British flag flew there would be no slavery. A 53 year struggle had ended in victory he never lived to see.
William Wilberforce, Christian and human rights statesman, is buried in Westminster Abby, London.
“And a little child shall lead them.”
Abortion and Infanticide
When Christ was born abortion was practiced. So was infanticide. If one bore an unwanted child, he simply threw it away. The wrong sex, retardation, illegitimacy–all were ample reasons to get rid of a baby.
That’s when Antonio Vivaldi was born into the late 1600’s Italy. His hometown was Venice. Training for the priesthood, receiving ordination, Vivaldi found that he was not healthy enough to oversee a church. So he turned to music.
It was the practice of Venetians to throw their unwanted babies into the canals. Literally multitudes of their corpses could be seen floating in the water. So, the church began an orphanage that took in unwanted babies. Vivaldi, the sickly priest was hired to be the orphanage music teacher.
The school had as many as 6000 girls in it. The 40 best students formed an orchestra and on Sundays and holidays it became popular for the townspeople to come out and see the children, led by their red-headed Vivaldi, make music.
Vivaldi wrote over 400 pieces for his girls, he died after 40 years of faithful service. He was penniless and unknown. His grave is unmarked.
“And a little child shall lead them.”
When Christ was born very few people received an education. Most people learned a trade. Subjects like mathematics, history, philosophy, art and medicine were beyond reach.
After the Roman empire collapsed in the 400’s A.D. the situation worsened. The Dark Ages lasted for 1000 years–superstition, illiteracy and fear reigned supreme. Europe became all but unbearable. And many sought to come to the newly discovered Americas to begin anew.
Sixteen years after the pilgrims had landed at Plymouth Rock, a British puritan preacher, John Harvard came also. He became pastor of the Charlestown Church in Massachusetts Bay Colony. And it was his burning desire to start a school for the education of children. Sadly, John Harvard died his first year here at the age of 31. Yet he left his personal library of 400 books and half his fortune, 779 British pounds, to help found the school. Today, Harvard University bears his name and is the home of the largest University library in the world. The school educates lawyers, doctors, professors, scientists, clergymen, even Christian politicians. And what is more, Harvard has served as a model for the start of other schools like Princeton, Emory, Duke, Davidson and the like. Ignorance? “A little child shall lead them.”
When Christ was born women had no merit in society. A rabbi of Jesus’ day said, “It is better to burn the Torah than teach it to a woman.” Females and children were little more than slaves.
During the European Industrial Revolution of the 1600’s and 1700’s women and children worked 18 hours a day under the most appalling working conditions. Their wages were literally pennies a day.
The rich got richer. The poor got poorer. And nobody said a thing.
When a worker fell ill or suffered a nervous breakdown they were simply discarded. Debtors went to prison. The insane were chained in unheated, rat-infested dungeons.
That’s when Anthony Ashley Cooper, the Earl of Shaftesbury was born. He lived for Christ 84 years, from 1801-1885. An Oxford college man, he secured a seat in Parliament for 25 years.
It was his mission to sensitize the social conscience of his nation, to argue responsibility, the compassionate use of wealth. He worked specifically to see that the insane were given humane treatment, and that women and children workers were not abused. It was by his efforts that the first laws were passed that limited working hours, insured humane working conditions and fair pay. Injustice? Oppression? Insensitivity? Lord Shaftesbury brought relief. “And a little child shall lead them.”
When Jesus was born people did not know the proper use of things. Human waste was dumped into the same river people drew their drinking water. Trees were chopped down for firewood with no effort to replant. Fertile soil was seeded, harvested, and replanted until it played out. Then it was left to erode.
As the population of the Earth increased so did the pollution. Smog, chemical contaminants, oil spills, the clear cutting of rain forests, radioactive fallout, and the depletion of the ozone layer became critical factors.
In our generation the American Medical Society warns that 80% of cancer in the human body comes from pollution.
That’s when Dr. Francis Schaeffer began to write his Christian theology. He pointed out that we are tenants in God’s Garden. We are to dress the earth and keep it, not rape and pollute it. “The great sin of modern man, he wrote, “Is to act like ethics has only to do with human relationships and not the rest of creation.”
Schaeffer wrote the classic book, Pollution and the Death of Man to call us to simplicity and responsibility.
A few years ago I had supper with Donald Hodell, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior. I asked him about his underlying ecological philosophy. Secretary Hodell told me he was a Christian and that Dr. Schaeffer’s book had helped him form his views and this was what he was striving to implement.
“And a little child shall lead them.”
Thomas Merton, in his book, The Seven Story Mountain, asks “How did it happen that, when the dregs of the world had collected in Western Europe, when the Goths and the Franks and the Normans and the Lombards had mingled with the rot of Old Rome to form a patchwork of hybrid races, all notable for ferocity, hatred, stupidity, craftiness, lust and brutality– how did it happen that from all this, there should come the Gregorian chant, cathedrals, the poems of Prudentius, the commentaries and histories of Bede, St. Augustine’s City of God?”
The answer? Into the chaos of “Roaring Camp” a little child has been born. A child of prophecy–Isaiah foretold him. A child of reconciliation–in Him the wolf would lie down with the lamb. A child of God. Jesus, the Son of God! Why, his very name means, “The anointed one of God to bring health.” A child of leadership–“A little child” So easy to overlook–but he “Shall lead them.” Are you following?
Imagine that! The one who formed the universe took form right here among us. He became one of us that we might become one of His.
Poet Carl Sandburg wrote, “A baby is God’s vote that the world should go on.” In Jesus Christ God has voted for us. And as with Wilberforce, Lord Shaftesbury, Schaeffer, Vivaldi and Harvard, it is not our ability, it’s our availability that counts. A sickly priest with musical skills, a parish elder who only lived 31 years, a persistent statesman who worked for something he never lived to see– each followed Jesus and made the world a better place to live.
“A little child shall lead them.” Are you one of them? Are you following?
Lord, I’ll follow. Help me. For Christ’s sake. Amen.