In St. Mark’s gospel we read:
"People were bringing little children to him, for him to touch them. The disciples scolded them, but when Jesus saw this he was indignant and said to them, 'Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. In truth I tell you, anyone who does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.' Then he embraced them, laid his hands on them and gave them his blessing" (Mark 10:13-16 NJB )
Christmas is for children.
It is not for naught that we celebrate the birth of a child on Christmas Eve. The kingdom of God belongs to children and only those who welcome the kingdom of God as children will enter therein. I don’t think Christ was referring exclusively to literal little boys and girls, but also to a state of mind, a way of being that we sophisticated adults have largely forgotten.
We need to quiet the chattering of the busy mind; that realm of the analytical, judgmental, narcissistic, and largely unconscious that renders us unable to see that we are already in the kingdom of God. Christmas offers a perfect reminder.
In St. Matthew’s gospel we read:
"The disciples came to Jesus and asked, 'Who is the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven?' He called a child, set him in front of them, and said, 'Truly I tell you: unless you turn round and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven. Whoever humbles himself and becomes like this child will be greatest in the kingdom of Heaven, and whoever receives one such child in my name receives me" (Matthew 18:1-6 REB).
Jesus is trying to settle an argument his disciples are having about status: “Who is greatest in the kingdom of Heaven?” Again, Jesus uses the image of a child. Isn’t the one with the most money, the most degrees, the most esoteric knowledge, the most meticulous religious practice greatest? There’s a place for these ideas, but the wealthy, the degreed, the celebrity, the sanctimonious are not ‘greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’ “Whoever humbles himself and becomes like [a] child will be greatest in the kingdom of Heaven.”
In a similar vein, St. Luke records: "Jesus. . . took a child, stood him by his side, and said, 'Whoever receives this child in my name receives me; and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. For the least among you all is the greatest" (Luke 9:47-48 REB). We ought to be encouraged by these words though they were clearly meant as an admonishment, probably because Christ’s students were missing the point; just as we do. According to Thomas Moore, we too often want to turn Christ into a moralist and his religion into a codification of our virtues or lack thereof. We focus on the ‘lack thereof’ in others while applauding ourselves for being so much better. We’ve turned God into Santa Claus, checking his list of who’s naughty or nice. Meanwhile, we’ve missed the mark, blinded by our goodness—real or supposed—so that we cannot imagine the reversal of the status quo implied by Christ’s statement: “the least among you all is the greatest.”
Christmas is for children.
When you see children this blessed holiday, watch them closely. Notice the purity of their joy, their delight in the moment, the depth of their hope and the reality of their love. Look at the spiritual truth Christmas Eve provides: God became a little child and insists that we become as little children to enter the Kingdom—not some celestial Disneyland where we remain eternally infantilized, but the Kingdom of awe and beauty and loveliness and mystery already spread before us if we would but have eyes to see and ears to hear.
The Most Rev. Tony Jack Howard is Bishop of the Diocese of Texas for the Universal Catholic Church. He oversees churches in Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma.