There’s a saying that Christmas is for children, and I guess in many ways it is. I was sitting in front of the Christmas tree while writing this homily, and I got to looking at all the ornaments on the tree. Nancy and I only put ornaments up that have some significance for us. No generic bulbs for us. Most of them are handmade from early on in our marriage, when we couldn’t afford to buy ornaments. Many of them have our children’s names on them, along with the year they were acquired. You know, baby’s first Christmas, things like that. And as I was looking at the ornaments I was remembering what my children were like at those various stages of their lives, and it brought me closer to them and to the spirit of Christmas.
There’s something about children at Christmastime that makes it what it is. If we adults were in charge it would lose a lot. To us old folks Christmastime is often full of stress, with so many things to do and plan. We have parties to host and attend, presents – and not just any presents, but just the right ones – to buy, wrap and give. And we have so many responsibilities around Christmas that we have to weave in and around the whirlwind of our everyday lives. Many of us dread Christmas because of this. We have so many expectations of what the perfect Christmas should be that we get all wound up in the stuff of Christmas while forgetting what Christmas was for us when we were children.
For children, especially little children, Christmas is so much simpler, so much easier, so much more wonderful. Little children have not yet been spoiled with the expectation of presents. For them it’s not about what they expect to receive that is so wonderful. It is all the sights and sounds and smells, especially around the baby Jesus. There’s something about a newborn baby that captivates us all, but especially for the little children.
I love to see parents each year bringing their little ones up to see the holy family statues here. You see it at every creche. Moms and dads clutching little hands, bringing them up close to see the manger scene, pointing out the baby Jesus. Telling them the story of that first Christmas. When I was young my job was to set up the creche in our home. I would carefully unwrap each porcelain figurine and gently place it in its particular place in the creche.
After everything was just right we would then as a family read the story from the gospels of that Christmas night. Many of you have similar traditions, or I hope you do. That is one of the first lessons in faith many children receive from their parents, the reality of the baby Jesus. Silent night, holy night. Calmness, heavenly peace, shepherds and angels on high. Peace on earth, goodwill towards men. Isn’t that what Christmas is all about? For one shining moment, the entire world is focused on one single event in history, on one single person, on one single baby.
Children understand what Christmas is really all about. That is, until we spoil it for them. They understand the reality of what a baby truly is. A baby is hope. A baby is the ultimate proof that God exists, with its perfect little fingers and toes, in its wonderful complexity and simplicity. We don’t remember what we were like as babies, we must see in our children what we once were.
Jesus was once like that. Have you ever stopped to think about just how radical the Christ child is? The very thought that this little baby, so vulnerable and innocent and perilous, is God himself? The most radical and cataclysmic event in all of human history, the incarnation, God becoming man, started out in such a simple way? God chose to become one of us in the same way he chooses to have each of us enter the world. And the result of that is peace on earth, goodwill towards men, glory to God in the highest. In a newborn baby we see the goodness of the world, the rightness of creation, even for a brief moment. That’s how we all started and how we should all view ourselves, as goodness and right. As persons of hope.
Jesus said that unless we become like little children we cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Unless we become like the perfect child, Jesus Christ, we will not and cannot be one with him forever in heaven. Because that child, who started out so innocent and calm, shook the world to its core and set up a choice that has divided the world for 2000 years.
You see, the entrance of God into history as man demands a choice for every human being. We have no choice in how and when and why we are born. But we are all ultimately confronted with a choice. Will we follow that perfect child? Will we model our lives after His? Will we submit to the will of the Father has he did, and can we live with the consequences of that choice?
That child grew up and lived an unconventional life, a radical life. He cured the sick, raised the dead, admonished sinners, set the existing religious order upside down, challenged the status quo in every individual heart, and had a simple message. Come, follow me. He demanded of us no less than what he himself did. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the prisoners, care for the poor and the marginalized, go out and make disciples of all the nations, spread the good news that God himself has become one of us so that we can become one with Him.
Do you see that man in the creche before you? Do you see the choice before you tonight? Can you see that beyond all the sentimentality of the scene and the season is the awesome reality that that child was born to die? His very reason for living was to die…for you. The quiet and peace and innocence of the baby’s nativity was to end in the horrible violence of the cross. Do you see that just as we enter into the remembrance of his birth we must also enter into the reality of his death and what that means for each of us? The hope that began with Jesus’ birth continues in the hope of his resurrection and his promise of eternal life.
It is good that we become like little children at Christmas. It is good that we enter into the sights and sounds of the season in order to reconnect ourselves with the simplicity and innocence of the manger scene. It is good that we, for one brief moment every year, look upon the baby Jesus and see ourselves, what we can become, what we are called to become.
The message of Christmas is one of renewal. Our children are our hope for the future and each newborn baby is a sign that things will continue. Each newborn baby is a regeneration, a renewal for our families and for our world. I think that is one reason we are all drawn to them, wonder at them, and make such a fuss about them. And I think that is why Christmas is for the children. Because it is about the children. It’s about the children we once were, and about the children we can become again.
It’s all about the children. It’s all about the child.