You’d think they would come willingly, eagerly. This is the “magic” of Christmas—the Babe in a manger, a guiding star, gifts from the wise men of the east—fascinating stuff. But some cried, “I don’t want to” and cling to mommy’s skirt.
The older ones shrink back and mutter, “This is embarrassing.”
A three-year-old runs from the back exit, stays for a minute, then dashes out again, exclaiming to his dad on the way by, “I don’t like it, it’s too hard.”
One little girl leads a similar-sized buddy in a game. They seemed to be trying to determine who can crawl the fastest on knees and elbows away from the storyteller.
Another late arrival holds his bottle of milk, not only firm in hand but firm in his mouth.
Eventually they settle. Some put their hands in the air in response to questions. When the microphone comes to their mouth, they shrug, forgetting what they intended to say. In response to, “What would it feel like to be a wise man?” one says, “I’d be scared, because I don’t know if Jesus would like me or not.”
A few speak loud and clear, proclaiming, “This is Jesus’ birthday,” proud of their insight. Several are eager to report whether or not mom and dad have “been good.” A few smile shyly at the attention from the congregation, but no one lingers when dismissed to their seats.
Jesus said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me.” It seems they were once eager to come, but what happened over these 2000 plus years?
The pessimist in me imagines Jesus in the pastor’s shoes. The children become adults and as Jesus speaks, “Come, follow me,” I imagine their responses.
That first child grows up and still clings to his mother’s skirts saying, “Sorry Jesus, I need time to go say goodbye to my mother and father.”
Those who dragged their heels will continue to hold back, and someday hear Jesus say, “He who is ashamed of me and my words, so shall my Father in heaven be ashamed.”
As for the little fellow who thought the story “too hard,” he will be like the rich young ruler who turned away sorrowing because he couldn’t give his all to follow Jesus. Because he had no intention of “counting the cost,” Jesus will tell him, “Anyone who is not willing to forsake all and follow me is not fit to be my disciple.”
These little game players will likewise become fun-loving but religiously reluctant adults. For them, Christianity will be a joking matter, the church a place only for bingo games and box socials. In His day, Jesus used a whip to clear such game-players from His Father’s house of worship. I understand His annoyance.
Then my eyes land on that little one with the bottle. I see him grown up and still carrying a bottle wherever he goes, its shape and contents changed but that bottle remaining his resource of choice. Jesus bids him come and be set free, but I don’t think he will.
The Holy Spirit pokes me. “Suffer the little children . . .” and I agree with Him that I am both negative and pessimistic. “Faith sees them with different eyes,” He tells me. I drop my pessimism and quickly experience the touch of God revising my ‘quick to judge’ attitudes.
Now these children appear different from what I first noticed. The one who loves his mother goes home as an adult to “tell her what great things the Lord has done” because he wants the most important influence in his life to be with Jesus for eternity.
Those who are embarrassed now with being up front are not a problem for God. In my eyes of faith I see them transformed into tireless, behind-the-scenes workers who are willing to stay in the background, not because they are shy but because they humbly recognize that even the most hidden deed done in His name will not go unrewarded.
As for the one who finds the story “too hard” I see God touch those ears and change that child into a counselor, or maybe just the best listening friend that someone ever had, or perhaps He capitalizes on his ‘no time for idle conversation’ attitude and turns him into a great student of the Word, intent on letting it richly dwell in his heart.
Even the game-players seem different. They have grown into men and women with great joy and a gift to cheer and comfort shut-ins. Their playful moods are quick to think of ways that lighten the darkest corners and heaviest loads.
As I watch the children with new eyes, I see that this one with the milk bottle growing faster than them all. The Holy Spirit transfers his dependence on his bottle to a deep dependency on the Lord Jesus Christ and this helpless babe has become a spiritual giant. God uses the milk of His Word and the power of His Spirit to bring him to full maturity.
Someone behind me whispers, “This is the church of tomorrow,” and I smile. Yes it is, and it is up to the church of today to see beyond their childishness to their childlike potential in Christ. It is up to us, up to me, to make sure I say “Yes” when Jesus invites the little children to come!
© Elsie Montgomery, 2007