One of the great truths of the Christian faith is that God has an important reason for everything He does. As our omniscient Creator, God the Father knows precisely what is best for us. Therefore, we know that there is great significance in the central truth of Christmas: God came to us as a baby.
There is much to ponder here. We believers tend to take the nature and circumstances of Christ's birth for granted because we have heard and read the story in the gospels countless times. So let us reflect on this astounding event once more. The Creator of the universe did not enter His creation as a king would -- perhaps descending from the clouds on a majestic, heavenly chariot drawn by 10 magnificent white steeds accompanied by legions of angels. No, instead God became incarnate through His Son Jesus as a helpless infant, born to a humble virgin and a carpenter foster father in an animal's stable in a backwater village in Judea. While the very thought of God incarnate astonishes the mind (Phil. 2:7-8), so does the way He came into the world. This leads us to ask the question: Why would God choose such a lowly way to make Himself manifest in our world?
While countless books could be written on the many theological implications of this question, let us focus on one startling element of the incarnation: By becoming a baby and growing into a child, Christ sanctified childhood, just as He sanctified every other facet of being human. Therefore, the virtues that children uniquely reveal to us a crucial aspect of the meaning of Christmas.
Perhaps the most remarkable quality about children is their natural innocence. For most of us, adulthood spans the vast majority of our lives, and childhood seems to go by in the blink of an eye. Our memories of the innocence of our own childhoods often seem like a distant dream. One of the greatest gifts that children give to adults is to remind us once more that innocence exists even in a fallen world. The innocence that children possess gives us a glimpse of God's primordial intention for humanity -- to be as pure as doves (Matthew 10:16), as Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden.
Jesus was the only man to ever live who never lost His innocence, even into adulthood. When we gaze into the innocent eyes of a child, we are given a taste of what the eyes of Jesus may have looked like, even as a man. This childlike simplicity of spirit is something that the Apostle Paul makes clear is vital to becoming holy: "Do everything without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation..." (Philippians 2:14-15). When we behold children and delight in their presence, we are refreshed by a world of hope, free of cynicism and filled with innocent wonder -- attributes that define the moment the Christ Child entered our world.
What is readily apparent about children, and what every parent knows all too well, is that they are in an almost constant state of need. Whether it be a diaper that needs changing, a hungry tummy that needs a snack, a book that must be read to them immediately, or a simple snuggle and a kiss to remind them that they are loved, a child is fully dependent upon the adults in their lives to meet their needs. What's easy to forget, especially for parents, is that this dynamic is a beautifully profound reflection of the ultimate state in which all of us find ourselves -- in total dependence upon God our Father, who sustains our very existence by continually willing it moment by moment (Col. 1:17).
It truly is remarkable to contemplate that our all-powerful Creator would allow Himself to be dependent upon Mary and Joseph to be fed, clothed, changed, and loved. In doing this, our Heavenly Father is trying to tell us that there is no shame in being dependent on others. When we meet the needs of our dependent children, we are participating in God's divine plan for humanity, reminding us to always stay close to Him who sustains us, just as the Almighty permitted Himself to be nurtured and guided by Mary and Joseph from his infancy in Bethlehem up through his young adulthood in Nazareth.
The instinctive joy that children exude is a wonderful thing to behold. Who can't help but have their spirits lifted when in the presence of a joyful child? "Look at me!" they shout gleefully as they climb the jungle gym. For a parent, there are few things in life more rewarding than the ecstatic greeting that you often receive from your child when you come home from work or from an outing. "Dada!" they exclaim as they run head-long into your arms. This pure joy that children cannot contain and express without shame is a beautiful reflection of the joy that is eternally present in Heaven as all the heavenly hosts praise God with shouts of jubilation (Psalm 66).
The Scriptures are replete with the theme of joy, as the Psalms invoke the word no less than 52 times. It is also striking that "joy" is the first word that the angel uses to describe the news of the Savior's birth to the shepherds: "And the angel said to [the shepherds], 'Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord'" (Luke 2:10-11). Similarly, the three wise men "rejoiced exceedingly with great joy" when the saw the star over the stable in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:10), signaling the birth of the long-awaited Messiah. Indeed, is there any greater joy than seeing and holding a newborn baby after its birth? It is no wonder, then, that "joy" has become synonymous with Christmas; the joy-giving, sin-conquering Savior has come!
One of the primary delights of childhood is the ability to engage in uninhibited, authentic play. A true childhood is one in which a child can play all day without having to worry about anything, knowing that they are secure in a world taken care of by Mom and Dad. In this sense, unstructured "play" is another way of describing true "rest." By engaging in carefree play, children remind us of the disposition we should have in order to truly rest with God. Our Heavenly Father desires nothing more than for us to spend time genuinely resting in Him, in the knowledge that we are His sons and daughters, infinitely loved and cherished. As 1 Peter 5:7 says, "Cast all your cares on Him, for He has care over you."
Amid the bustle that often accompanies the Christmas season for adults, we must find the time to sincerely rest in contemplation of the child Jesus. Likewise, this time of rest reminds us of the posture we should have with Our Lord each day: one of surrender to His divine care of us in each moment, just as a carefree child has with his parents. As Saint Augustine famously said, "Our hearts are restless until they rest in You." And as Jesus reminded us in His most famous sermon, "Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you" (Matthew 6:31-33).
Every parent knows the feeling all too well -- that sense of guilt deep in our gut after we realize we have wronged our child in some way. Whether it is angrily snapping at them over a trivial matter or accidentally banging their head against the car door as we are trying to lift them into their car seat, apologizing and asking forgiveness of a child can be a humbling experience. But what is even more humbling is witnessing how quickly children offer their forgiveness. It's beautiful to observe their innocent souls doing exactly what Christ continually commanded of us: to forgive quickly and without limit (Luke 17:3-4; Matthew 18:21-22; Luke 6:37; Mark 11:25; Matthew 6:14).
Sometimes it takes the example of a child to drive home the point that when we hold on to grudges instead of letting them go, we embitter our souls and drive ourselves further from God. We can learn much from the unreserved way that a child quickly forgives a wrong done to them one minute, and the next minute dives wholeheartedly into a game of hide and seek as if nothing happened. What could be more in accord with the Christmas spirit?
One of the most beguiling yet captivating teachings of Jesus in the gospels is Matthew 18:3: "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." At the first Christmas, God came from Heaven to earth as a child. In the same way, Jesus reveals to us that if we want to go from earth to Heaven, we must become like a child, with nothing to offer or commend ourselves with, except to trust fully in the merits of our Savior. This Christmas, may we contemplate the Christ Child anew, and in so doing become just a little bit more childlike in our faith.
** The Washington Update will return in 2022! Merry Christmas from the FRC team!