A little child

I was thinking that I should be writing some deep theological reflections for the 12 days of Christmas. Some years I have tried to do that with my journal. Theology is the study of God and it is something that I enjoy. Thinking about God is one way of worshiping. You can praise God by using the best of the human brain to organize thoughts about God. Christmas is an excellent time to think about God and to put some of those thoughts into words.

Christmas, however, is often a time for rest and restoration for pastors. We invest all kinds of energy into the season of Advent, with preparation for special services, pastoral duties and the like. In the church, however, activities really slow down after Christmas. The week between Christmas and New Years is a time for families to gather and people often have their attention focused away from the church. The phones are quiet at the church and activities are few. So we have learned that the season of Christmas is a convenient time to take a bit of vacation and spend time with our families. When we had children at home we almost always tried to take a break from our work while they had their break from school.

For most of my career, then, I have focused not on the kind of theology that is done with words and thoughts during Christmas. I have focused on lived experiences. Living is another way celebrate Christmas. The prologue to the Gospel of John says, “What came into being in him was life and the life is the light of the world. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Life is filled with all kinds of wonderful experiences of the holy.

Little things, like playing checkers with a seven-year-old, or helping a four-year-old struggle through the emotional ups and downs of “Chutes and Ladders.” Little things like following an 18-month-old through the Children’s Museum where each exhibit is a new surprise and delight. A small area with sand and sand toys is as exciting as an entire beach. The water play area is scaled just right for tiny hands.

Little things like family meals. In our regular life these days we are two at the table. Our menus repeat and our conversation is joyful, but often drifts to work and problems that need to be solved. In the busy household of our son’s family there are seven of us around the table and the process of going around the table so each can say what we’re thankful for can take an entire meal. Persuading children to eat healthy foods is a good lesson in nutrition for a grandpa and I tend to be more careful about what I eat when I am with the grandchildren.

Little things like reading to the children. I am a big fan of books, but I’ve don most of the reading of my life quietly. It takes practice to read children’s books smoothly. Try reading this phrase from a favorite book out loud three times in a row. Say it with feeling: “He was a spunky hanky panky cranky stinky dinky lanky honky tonky winky wonky donkey.”

There may not be much deep theology in those little things, but there is something miraculous about spending time with children. It revives the soul in special ways. When I ask my self the question that I ask others, “How is your spirit?” I know that children lift my spirit.

The prophet Isaiah described his vision of peace for the people of Israel as he warned them of the dangers of corruption and idolatry. He wrote:

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
    and the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
and the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
    and a little child shall lead them.

The path to peace is one on which we allow ourselves to be led by the children. Being led by children opens us to think about the long term future. There is more to life than short term profits and losses. There is more than gain for a single generation. Children teach us to think beyond the span of our own short lifetimes. Those who will continue beyond our lives are great leaders when it comes to thinking about how best to invest the time that we do have.

I honestly believe that policy makers would make more informed long term decisions if they would spend more time with children. Protecting the environment becomes a higher priority when you think about the future. Short term political gains become less important. And you don’t have to play games with a child for very long before you once again learn the lesson that in life winning isn’t everything.

A little child leading me, whether it be on a short exploration of the back yard, complete with dramatic puddle splashing, or a visit to a shop or a museum, or a game, or a trip through a bedtime story, is always a meaningful adventure.

Maybe that is why we invest 12 days each year contemplating the simple fact that God chose to come to humans in the form of a baby, tiny and vulnerable and in need of much care. The child in the manger was not the expected shape for the messiah in the apocalyptic visions of the prophets and late before Christian era thinkers. They envisioned military leaders or great monarchs. They thought in terms of power to overthrow the Assyrians and Romans and other oppressors. What we got was a baby. Tiny and fragile and not even able to speak.

If you want Christmas theology you don’t have to go any farther than that. Follow a child for a day or a week. Listen to the sounds of a baby. Hold one in your arms and think about what that child really needs to grow in a healthy way.

Some say that Christmas is mostly for children. It is even better for adults who pay attention to children.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!