The Christmas Jesus teaches us about the inherent gift of children, full of promise, full of anticipation. Children simply love. Their smallness, like His, conceals the largess and presence of His love to us and to a languishing, desperate world. In welcoming the "least of these," we welcome the Holy Child of Christmas.
NASHVILLE, TN (Catholic Online) - "Before God, who is eternal, you are much more a child than, before you, the tiniest toddler. And besides being a child, you are a child of God. - Don't forget it" (Josemaria Escriva, Spiritual Childhood).
It is the season of hospitality, time to welcome friends and family into our homes, and yet some of us are questionable hosts who lack the hospitality gift, at least in the conventional way. It is telling then, that Advent is centered around hospitality, welcoming a child, a child of Promise.
Oriented to the Roman winter solstice, the arrival of the Child coincides with the arrival of the sun and the end of the longest, darkest day of the year. To welcome this Child is to welcome light and hope into the darkness of our world.
I would argue, however, that we are routinely presented with the opportunity to welcome light and hope by hosting secret teachers in our homes. Upon their arrival we might believe they are mere children, cute little responsibilities that we must teach and mold and nurture:
"A young man according to his way, even when he is old, will not depart from it" (Prov. 22:6). I assumed this meant I must discipline them in the proper paths. How, then, are they so incisive, so penetrating, if they are not spies planted by God?
When my oldest was two he determined he would dress himself and consistently wore mismatched socks, even though I paired them carefully and laid them out for him. The difficulty I had in stifling the overwhelming urge to make him change revealed a silly perfectionism, and began a series of confrontations with incidents in which he behaved according to his personality and temperament, but I was strongly tempted to force him to conform to my, or other people's, expectations.
From my son I learned that dark emotions provoked by others' personality expressions are often signals that there is a lesson present for me through them, and that a lack of respect for the divine timeline of others' unique development, spiritual or otherwise, simply exacerbates everyone's anxiety and stymies our potential.
He taught me that differences are resources rather than deficits. I once corrected a picture he had drawn by asking why he had colored the people yellow. He reported in sensible tones that it was the way he felt about morning. Duh.
At eleven, it only took a couple of sarcastic remarks escaping from his mouth to recognize my own tone, and I learned to my chagrin that I am a smart aleck who often answers questions with sarcasm.
I can always tell when my priorities have become muddled and my offspring need individual time with me, because their behavior degenerates into mob mentality and something is usually broken.
But I have also learned that dandelion fluff makes my hair look prettier and watermelons make the best bombs. We should not wear watches or talk softly. We should learn to speak Sioux, eat more broccoli trees and less pie, and sing Shakespeare.
I have learned God writes operas from the music of rivers, whispers "I Love You" through the wind, and sends us poetry in the Psalms. Since "all things are possible with God" I also know He could bake thirty minutes brownies in two minutes, and that pennies thrown in wishing wells are prayers He might grant.
Did you know one's perspective is broader from the limbs of trees, and broader still from one's knees? How else might picking wildflowers, growing lettuce, and gathering eggs all be lessons in treasure hunting?
Pain will pass, but laughter is eternal, godly; I have it directly from sages, and I, on miraculous rare occasions, get a glimpse of a poignant love and intimate gratitude that God experiences when "brothers live in unity" and care for one another with sacrificial love (Ps. 133:1).
While God loves me tenderly and deliberately through them, He is teaching me to really SEE. In my most desperate times when I feel care-less, my three year old has been known to hold my face in his miniature, grubby hands and tell me, "You're my pleasure."
"In the spiritual life of childhood the things children say or do are never puerile or childish" (Josemaria Escriva, Spiritual Childhood). The things children say and do frequently heal the blind.
Our children carry an inherent message, a promise, one that we must allow the room to emerge. It is not our message. We don't plant our own seeds of legacy in them. We hold one another's hands along the path to sanctity for a while, but they carry their Father's legacy, just like the first Child of Promise.
The Christmas Jesus teaches us about the inherent gift of children, full of promise, full of anticipation, were they never to do another thing but "be," because what they are, is love. Children simply love. Their smallness, like His, conceals the largess and presence of this love to us and to the world through them.
They beckon us with giggles to listen for secret wisdom, to accept divine hugs through little arms, and welcome messy, glorious virtue kisses pressed upon our weary cheeks. How significant that Jesus appeared to the earth as a little, laughing, noisy, Child of Promise. He simply and desperately loved us, even unto death.
It is, therefore, our job to provide an environment of hospitality where our children's weaknesses are minimized and their gifts and talents can advance, and be acknowledged, strengthened and released to a waiting world. The necessity of this extreme hospitality might worry us if it weren't for how desperately we love them and want to welcome them, these promise carriers.
Instead it might comfort us to remember that He chose us to receive the love they are, and in receiving them as guests and not possessions, we might reveal to them that they have something priceless to offer, something beautiful, something of the image of God: their love.
We must offer the same hospitality in our own hearts, allow Him to minimize our own weaknesses and use our strengths, as we too carry a promise to the world. In this way we can prepare to welcome His promise for us this Christmas: a Child, a Promise, a matchless Love.
At times my priorities are so askew I forget there is any such thing as intrinsic value, and that through God, I can glimpse it, but both the Jesus Child, and my own children teach me that the mystery of love isn't something that is gradually diminishing in a modern world; it simply grows with my simplicity.
And truly, I reiterate, nothing's small!
No lily-muffled hum of a summer-bee,
But finds some coupling with the spinning stars,
No pebble at your foot, but proves a sphere.
No finch but implies a cherubim;
And glancing on my own thin, veined wrist,
In such a little tremor of blood
The whole strong clamour of a vehement soul
Doth utter itself distinct. Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees takes off his shoes.
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries,
And daub their faces unaware. -Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh
Sonja Corbitt is a contributing writer for Catholic Online - sonjacorbitt(at)pursuingthesummit.com.
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