Last Sunday, like most Sundays, I sat at the front of the Sanctuary next to wiggly children during the children’s message. As Maddie Smith explained the importance of waiting and preparing and joy and love during Advent, I took great delight in the reaction of one dear child as he realized for the first time that Christmas is Jesus’ birthday. He became unglued. His mind was blown. God has a birthday! And it’s CHRISTMAS!!!!
His joy in this massive change in perspective went almost entirely unnoticed in our worship service – but I was there, and I witnessed it. And in that moment, I was both filled with joy for this dear child and filled with deep sadness for the number of times I have heard from adults that this is not a space where children belong. While Scripture has many places that put emphasis on the importance of children in the Kingdom of God (Deuteronomy 11 & Luke 18, just to name two), many people remain resolute that children under a certain age do not belong in worship and other areas where adults gather. There is no doubt that often those who say these things mean well – they want children to be in developmentally appropriate spaces so that young minds and hearts might truly grasp the goodness and love of God. However, I think what often lies behind these statements is the reality that children in their enthusiasm, impulsiveness, and curiosity can often be distracting and are seen by many as being disrespectful.
Yet in this Advent season, I am reminded that God welcomes children so wholly that God became a child. God embodied all of the exuberance, impulsivity, curiosity, and wonder possessed by the youngest among us. Jesus, even as a young boy, was not afraid to take up space in worship and discussion of Scripture (Luke 2:41-52). I do not believe that Jesus is the only child to have this place among us; in all three synoptic gospels he makes the declaration that unless we have the faith of a child we will not enter the kingdom (Matthew 18:3, Luke 18:17, Mark 10:15). I wholeheartedly believe that the incarnation of Jesus declares loudly to all of us jaded adults that children belong in the kingdom and in our gatherings. How else will we be reminded of just how miraculous and wonderful and mind-blowing it is that God has a birthday?
In this season, let us meditate on the Christ child and may he transform our hearts so that we too might have the faith of little children.