This Advent as I read through Isaiah I notice the children most of all.
There is a child. It is the son of Isaiah and his name is Remnant. He walks alongside his father as a sign to an anxious king on the cusp of battle. The ruler is under pressure, the neighbors to the north advancing and Jerusalem under threat. He is too preoccupied with the pending conflict to notice the child by Isaiah’s side, I suppose.
Why bring a child to such a conversation? Matters of war and peace are on the table and you bring a toddler – it is wildly inappropriate. And yet here is the sweet son, Remnant. Whatever comes, Some Will Return, his name assures the astute observer.
A second child enters the conversation between the prophet and the king. This time the child is God’s own sign to the vexed ruler. A young woman, presumably one he knows, is with child and will soon give birth to a son. His name will be Emmanuel. Did you hear that? His name announced God Is With Us.
Watch him grow, the prophet says. Before he can tell right from wrong, these military conflicts that trouble you will be gone. Within two years the child will posses more wisdom than King Ahaz, knowing what is right unlike the faithless king. And with the quelling of troubles, the child will be able to enjoy curds and honey, the symbol of prosperity in a land of promise.
Sadly, the king has no time for children. The king has no patience when sabers are rattling on the border. He acts on what he knows.
Another prophetic oracle, another child. This third child is the newly born son of a prophetess. God tells Isaiah the name: Spoil speeds, Prey Hastens. Amid the mounting conflict with warring neighbors still on the horizon, the word comes that Damascus will be looted and Samaria will be carried away as vanquished prey. In short – Syria and Israel will fall. And it will happen before the child can say mama or dada…
If the king only listened early on, this all could have been thwarted. Trusting God in concrete matters, even and especially geopolitical matters, would have brought about different outcomes. Instead of becoming the spoils of war you could have had peace, prosperity and tasted the sweetness of promised land.
But instead of clinging to God Is With Us, displaying radical trust in real time, the skittish king opted for war. He trusted in violence, not YHWH. He opted for weapons, paying no heed to the children.
By this time in my reading of Isaiah I wasn’t surprised to hear of another birth, another child, and another chance. This time the son is given no name, but bestowed with four royal titles:
“For a child has been born for us, a son given to us;
authority rests on his shoulders;
and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
It seems that despite the inept discernment of King Ahaz, there will one day come another king. Even beyond the somewhat successful policies of King Hezekiah, will come a better ruler. This King, only a child now, will be an agent of continual peace and far-reaching justice. This king will inaugurate redemptive goodness for all.
All the talk of children and kings makes me wonder this season about what is required to practice peacemaking in our fractured world. Children sitting in on high level strategy meetings, coming as prophetic signs in matters of war and peace, even bearing authority on their tiny shoulders seems inappropriate. What do they know of such things? How can they add to the conversation?
And yet, the prophet keeps inserting children as if they hold wisdom we must heed. Is it the innocence of a child? Is it their ability to abandon the cares of this world and wildly trust? Perhaps it’s their capacity to see with fresh eyes, since they are not accustomed to war or resigned to ‘that’s just the way it is – some things will never change.”
This year I’ve struggled to embrace the anticipation of Advent or the joy of Christmas. The dangers and threats of the real world press too heavily on me most days. I watch my own children swell with excitement. I see their eagerness to give (and receive). I listen to their observations about Jesus coming into the world through a smelly stable, upsetting all our grown-up expectations. For them the message of the coming King is still new and still able to surprise them.
I want to be surprised anew by the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace. I want to heed the wisdom of children and resist the temptations of the status quo and the way it’s always been. I want to believe in the newness that God ushers into our world when we trust The Child instead of the warrior, the rich, the powerful, the loudest ones in the room.
Tonight I welcome The Child. A thrill of hope – my weary soul rejoices!
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