About that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them. Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. And anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf is welcoming me.” Matthew 18:1-5 NLT
The idea that we must be childlike to inherit the Kingdom of God is something of a cliché in the Church. But Jesus knew what he was talking about. So many children in this world are faced with devastating loss and vicious evil. But in the refugee camps children can be seen running, laughing, playing. Children are remarkably resilient. They can recover from so much more than adults, it seems. They are just wired differently, set up so that their default is to love, to believe, to experience joy somehow, no matter where they are.
We are not to exploit this or use it to excuse our behavior. No, our goal is to be like them, our call is to welcome and care for them, for the dream that Jesus carried in his heart is placed within the heart of every child, a dream of love, acceptance and peace.
We are waiting
We have not forgotten
For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. Romans 8:22-23 NLT
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” Revelation 21:1-5 NLT
Ever since the ragged band of believers stood on the hilltop outside Jerusalem, staring at the clouds, Christians have been waiting for Christ’s return. This return is not about vindication or revenge, but about redemption and healing, about peace and joy being finally given in full to all people. There will be a new heaven, we believe, not an exclusive country club for the contrite, but a new creation where disease, famine, war and strife are not allowed, where pain is unknown, where the tears and heartbreak that so mar our lives will be erased by the joy and grace of God himself. And this new creation, this new blessed life is made available to all, to everyone. Jesus himself said, “whoever is not against me is for me,” a reversal of what we usually think. Let this new earth for which we wait and work be one for all people.
On this night
On this night
On this very Christmas night
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, “Fear not! for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. “ (Luke 2:8-14 KJV)
On Christmas night, some 2,000 years ago, an illegitimate child was born to a teenaged girl and her fiance – a situation so unacceptable that they were not able to find housing with Joseph’s own relatives in his ancestral home, unable even to purchase their way into a corner of an inn’s dining room.
“Pay me and you can sleep in the stable,” they’re told. And so the Son of God, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the bastard child of Mary, is born among mud, straw and donkey shit.
Which is just fine for the first visitors to pay their respects to the newborn King – a group of shepherds, themselves familiar with and reeking of animal effluvia, the only people, perhaps, of a lower station than Mary, Joseph and Jesus.
This is our Lord, born to a young girl, laying in a feed trough. He did not come to conquer, did not come to place his image and symbols in the halls of power, to have his memory fought over. He did not come to be used as a justification for our selfishness, our desire to dominate one another, our greed and ambition.
He came to proclaim the time of God’s favor, to show God’s goodwill toward us, to proclaim and be peace, peace on this earth. Jesus came as love, as peace, as healing, as repentance, as acceptance and redemption.
So on this night, this very Christmas night, may we discover again the wonder of Emmanuel, God-with-us. May we receive his peace and redemption and then be that peace and redemption for this world.
Chris – who I will see in a few days and berate for not posting more – Sanpete, DuWayne, Neil, Ezra (and the crew at his pad: jacqueline, JiminPortland, nolo, bobmcmanus, Fred(!) and all the rest), those who read this blog and do not comment, those in my family, my friends,
Though you do not all share my beliefs, I hope that you will understand and accept in the spirit it is given when I say:
May the peace and love that Jesus came to show us and be for us, be yours in full in this coming year. Thank you for all that you do to help me to stay true to what I try to believe, and for the grace you show me when I fail.
Let us all work together to show that we still remember, we have not forgotten, we still hold onto the dream that Jesus himself had, that this world would know peace instead of war, love instead of indifference, hope instead of despair. Let us continually look for the ways in which the Divine breaks into our world – lamps that do not go out, values and ideals that survive captivity and forced labor in a foreign land, the stories that we read at the end of the year but happen all the time, if we but look, when human beings decide to become better than we are, to choose against what seems to be our natural state and accept, help and love those who share this world with us.
*Lyrics in bold from Christmas Canon, © 1997-2006 Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Quoted without permission, but I imagine it's ok.