In the old days, the Latin chant used to be intoned: “Puer natus est pro nobis….” The meaning of those words hasn’t varied that much, even if they are in English now.
Each Mass on Christmas Day opens with the announcement that “a child is born for us; a son is given to us.” It is a reminder that Christmas is basically the feast of children.
But children we’re not. And with most adults there is a tinge of regret in that realization.
As people grow older, they inevitably lose that wondrous rapture of opening up gifts on Christmas morn at some ungodly hour. The twinkle in a person’s eye is just not the same for someone whose closets are jammed with clothes or for whom buying a present is such a chore. Yes, children we are not.
But didn’t this Child we call Jesus tell us to retain something of the former glory? Didn’t he tell us to never let go of our childhood?
He didn’t recommend that we remain childish, but he did emphasize the beauty of what it meant to be childlike. Even after we have lost the innocence of an earlier time, he told us not to give up.
And to the degree that we can reach back and recover some basic childlike attitudes, Christmas becomes our feast too.
For from children and from our own younger years, we learn something of that Christmas quality of trusting. With what appears to be wrinkle-free looks, a child trusts Mom and Dad—totally. For him or her, these are the names of God. Mother is love; father is power.
Mothers heal all hurts, and even take away the terrors of the night. Fathers have the strength of 10 men and can lift a young lad high on a shoulder to see a ballgame. Mothers and fathers can do no wrong—at least so thinks a young boy or girl. They are all wise, all loving. Home is a castle. Life is secure.
Of course, growing older introduces us to a lesser reality. The giants of our younger years can stumble and fall. But is that beautiful quality of trust misplaced? Or is it possible that such a confidence springs up in our hearts and is to be nurtured until old age for the One who is not imperfect?
“God my mother and father, thou,” prayed the mystic and saint. There is only One who can take away all the injuries and terrors of the night; there is only One who can lift us up beyond the good and evil of human existence to the ecstasy of a life fulfilled.
The love and trust we feel in early years is not misplaced; it is a sharing and a taste of the life to come and whose presence powerfully affirms the glory of the present. A child trusts his father and mother. And faith gives us the courage to trust the God who loves us beyond all human measure even in our imperfection.
Unless we trust as little children, we shall not learn the peace of Christmas.
And have you ever noticed how forgiving a younger person can be?
Parents have all sorts of strategies: no sooner has a child been corrected, with tears streaming down his face, then he can be distracted into giving Mom a kiss. The tears are still shining in his eyes, but the memory of harsh words and blows are left behind—permanently.
A child doesn’t know what it means to get even; he doesn’t store up hurts. A child doesn’t become fragile and brittle over words; life has too many possibilities to become bogged down over some bitter feelings.
But the pragmatists among us will point out that the older we grow the harder it is to forgive and switch back to good humor. That’s true: with age, memories increase, inhibitions grow and unfairness becomes a stark reality.
It is possible to go through life hoarding the hurts of decades past. It’s possible to grow decrepitly bitter over something that really won’t matter a generation down the road. And it’s possible to evolve into something that is shallow and deathlike long before one’s time.
Or, like the child, a person can forgive and get on with the real agenda of living which is loving. For with forgiveness comes the ability to discover the novelties of life, the beauties of nature and what makes the world go ‘round.
A child again shows us how: whiskers or a bald head become something to explore. He doesn’t bring gifts—that’s the language of love that older people use. Often he just brings himself.
Then, on the other hand, he may bring you a dandelion, which has suddenly become an orchid or an object of the purest gold. Or he may bring you his pet spider or his favorite rock. He comes running, with arms outstretched. Your coming home is the biggest event in his whole life.
We are too hateful or sometimes just too bashful to be this expressive. But it’s nice to know that this is a sign of how God loves us. For this Christ-child who is born for us would one day tell us a story of a Father who came running with outstretched arms—into the arms of a son who was to be forever known thereafter as the Prodigal.
Unless we forgive as little children, we shall never know the love which is the heart of Christmas.
Yes, Christmas is the feast of children. And if we are not too mechanical, perhaps we can discover the wonder and imagination of being childlike again. It would mean a new way of seeing, perhaps for the first time.
It is the power to see in food an act of providence, to see in flowers the beauty of eternity, and in music the harmony of the universe. It is the power to see in every child, especially the newest born, love’s power to begin again, a power which shall not forsake us in the work we call dying.
Why did Jesus really come to Bethlehem? “If we become as little children, we shall enter the Kingdom of God.”