|The Peaceable Kingdom - Edward Hicks|
Sunrise this morning was the first dawn in the life of our fourth grandson, Zachary, who was born last night. It occurs to me that with every child born the world is a new creation. There is so much in the world that is wrong and needs healing and putting right. It's quite common to hear anxiety expressed about bringing children into such a world. Yet there is an alternative view, inspired by Christian hope. Every new life is a sign of hope. In each human life there is the potential for a different world to begin to come into being; a world where love not hate holds sway.
One of the readings from the Bible set for today includes these well-known verses 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." Is. 11:6
The prophet paints a picture of a world so full of peace and unity that a child could be in charge and no harm would come to her. The child emerges in the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ as a special focus of divine grace.
"Whoever welcomes this child in my name, welcomes me.." Luke 9: 48.
Christian communities through history have by no means been consistent in the value and protection they have afforded to children; nor in their commitment to the social peace and justice which provides for a world in which a child, or any of the childlike virtues, may flourish. Yet there has been a golden thread in Christian practice and teaching, never entirely lost sight of, running all the way back to Jesus himself, which values and uplifts the child. This seam of concern for children has had its most common expression historically in the efforts to educate children rather than simply train them to carry out the functions of their parents before them.
Many of the charities and agencies which exist to support and protect vulnerable children today have their roots in the churches or were founded by compassionate visionaries motivated by their Christian faith.
Some have lost direct connection with active Christian communities. One charity which continues to rely on both spiritual and financial support from the network of Anglican churches in England and Wales is The Children's Society.
This charity was founded in the nineteenth century by Edward Rudolf, a Sunday School teacher who engaged the support of the Archbishop of Canterbury to set up children's homes for orphaned and neglected children, as a better alternative than workhouses and large orphanages. Today The Children's Society's work focuses on both intervention to change the lives of vulnerable children in their communities; and also on campaigning for justice and changes in policies and attitudes to improve the lives of all children and young people.
In a master stroke of marketing some 40 years ago The Children's Society introduced to the Church of England the Christingle - a tradition brought from continental Europe in the 18th century and previously confined to the Moravian Church. Now almost every Anglican church in England and Wales, and many primary schools, hold special Christingle services at or around Christmas. An orange is decorated and topped by a candle as a symbol of Christ the light of the world; and the events raise both awareness and money for the work of The Children's Society.