Edward Hicks’ painting The Peaceable Kingdom. Sourced from Wikipedia
This version of Edward Hicks’ painting The Peaceable Kingdom depicts three children in the foreground, with Pilgrims and Native Americans in the distance, engaged in trade. The painting is a response to the vision in 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.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
The presence of the child who leads in the text, along with the prophet’s words about the shoot from the stump of Jesse, has inspired Christians for centuries to connect this passage with Christmas. The vision God gives Isaiah is of a renewed world, one in which the traditional categories of predator and prey are gone and in which there is such safety that children can lead wolves and leopards, and play over the holes of usually deadly creatures. We often think of Christmas as a time for children, but how often do we think of Christmas in terms of the vision of a renewed world that is safe for children? The horrifying murder of 8 children in the care of a trusted relative, the tragic death of Luke Batty, and the litany of stories of abuse and cover-up being brought to light by the Child Abuse Royal Commission remind us of how vital this vision of safety is. According to one.org, 6.3 million children under the age of 5 died in 2013, mostly from preventable causes. The good news is that the number of children who survive past their 5th birthday has increased substantially in the last twenty years and is a story of hope in the seemingly endless battle against poverty in the developing world. May Isaiah’s vision of safety continue to inspire us as we celebrate the birth of the Christ-child.