The wolf will live with the lamb and the leopard will lie down with the young goat; the calf and the young lion will feed together, and a little child will lead them. – Isaiah 11:6
It’s just about that time of year when the History Channel lights up with specials about “what really happened at Christmas.” How do you explain Mary’s pregnancy? What’s up with the Star of Bethlehem? How do we reconcile the historical anomalies? It seems our post-modern minds only grant truth to “factual” events and rational “reality.” When did imagination leave the life of faith?
In Isaiah 11, the prophet imagines a time of serene cohabitation, when lambs feel unthreatened around wolves, leopards and kid goats nap in the sun, calves graze beside cubs. This is the divine vision often referred to as “The Peaceable Kingdom.” And of course, it’s more than domesticated wildlife. In fact, it’s probably not about predators and livestock at all.
The prophet wants to shock the system of a people that has suffered relentless turmoil and become heartlessly enthralled in predatory, psychopathic behaviors. While they chafe under foreign occupation, they fixate on “survival of the fittest” fatalism. (As Billie Holliday famously summarized Matthew 25:29, “Them that’s got shall get, them that’s not shall lose…”) God longs for the day when wolves and wildcats stop pouncing, when lambs and kids no longer feel threatened, when walls and fences come down because danger is no more. And a child shall lead them.
Many turn the child reference into a Messianic oracle, saying, “This is all about Jesus!” But that alters the prophet’s intended meaning. The world needs children simply because they can imagine what God envisions. Is that so far-fetched we put it on the shelf beside all the other biological contradictions in this picture? Have we become so “adult” we only see young people as “adults in the making”? In elevating the text to mean something mystical we lose the common sense it wants to convey, especially in an hour when imaginative thinking is scarce.
For the past few months, Gather has been working with the Children’s Defense Fund and Lilly Endowment to create a culture of child wellbeing in our community. It’s a three-year program out of which we’ll offer transformative opportunities to young people. In our conversations we keep coming back to one fact: we’re missing the Y factor at Gather. We need young folx to lead us. That’s why, as your pastor, I’m declaring 2023 as Gather’s Year of Youth. I challenge us to go through our friends and family lists to find young people for Gather. As they come into the community, we’ll figure out how best to provide what they need. In the meantime, we must figure out why we need them to lead. And for that I give you one word: imagination.
Grateful for vision and youth,
(Above: Peaceable Kingdom by Edward Hicks, c. 1834, oil on canvas.)