Friday, December 14, 2012

Becoming Children Again

Advent Reading: Psalm 131

(ESV) O LORD, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, hope in the LORD
from this time forth and forevermore.

(The Message) God, I’m not trying to rule the roost,

   I don’t want to be king of the mountain.

I haven’t meddled where I have no business

   or fantasized grandiose plans.

I’ve kept my feet on the ground,

   I’ve cultivated a quiet heart.

Like a baby content in its mother’s arms,

   my soul is a baby content.

Wait, Israel, for God. Wait with hope.

   Hope now; hope always!

This Psalm provides a place for me to bring my thoughts on childlikeness and its relationship to Advent.

Have you noticed than in many of the great Christmas movies and TV Specials that it is children who get it and not the adults? Think of The Santa Clause, Elf, Polar Express, and Miracle on 34th Street to name a few of my favorites. In these stories, the children have not been “corrupted” by the complexities and troubles of adulthood and are able to see and enter into the “magic of Christmas” with relative ease. Of course, most of the time this has to do with belief in Santa Claus, which many Christians feel uncomfortable with. But I wonder if there is some value to that in the symbolic world in which children dwell, the world we feel pulled to every Christmas. Let’s remember that Narnia was a world ruled by deep magic as well as by children.

I’m not so sure we need to work so hard to separate the “magic of Santa Claus” from what God did in Jesus in Bethlehem. When C.S. Lewis received a letter from a concerned mother who was worried about her boy being more fond of Aslan than he was of Jesus, he replied that to be fond of Aslan is to be fond of Jesus. Lewis understood that the mixing of metaphors and reality in the imagination only serves to prepare one for the life of faith. Perhaps the same could be said (with certain qualifications, of course) about the “magic” of Christmas and of Santa Claus. This figure (with some historical basis in St. Nicholas) is the symbol of goodness and generosity, fueling children’s imaginations about having dreams fulfilled (sounds heavenly, doesn’t it?).

Christmas calls us to become children again. Perhaps this is also why Christmas is so painful for many of us - our most treasured dreams (for love, acceptance and fulfillment) were crushed when we were children. Speaking for myself, this season calls out to the wounded child in me to come to the stable and dream again of someone good enough and strong enough to make sense of my life and to take care of me; I am called to let go of my “grown up” despair and trust mystery again.

I’m trying, but it’s so difficult! To feel the awe and wonder of a child is in the same breath to feel the loss and abandonment of an orphan. The empty stable, waiting for the Christ child, is an apt “symbolic world” right now for me. It is where I go to converse with God in the dark. It is a womb groaning for birth; a tomb longing for resurrection.

Let me close this piece with the lyrics from one of my Advent companions, Jason Gray. It is from one of his new songs, “Children Again:”

We found one in a closet and one in a drawer

There’s no hiding place we won’t find anymore
We’d shake every present for any small clue
Of what lies beneath the words “from me to you”

But for every present left under a tree
There are things that we hoped for and never received
And the years and the yearning can make us forget
To be filled with wonder instead of regret

But Christmas is calling again
Leading us to Bethlehem

Where a child is waiting for you
When grown up dreams don’t come true
It sounds crazy, but a baby
Can make us all children again

When you want to forgive but the wound is so deep
And you ache for forgiveness for the secrets you keep
When the flower of your heart only feels like a thorn
And you long for the child that you were before

Christmas is calling again
Leading you to Bethlehem

Where a child is waiting for you
When grown up dreams don’t come true
It sounds crazy, but a baby
Can make us all children again

Afraid to be strangers
We circle the manger
And kneel down beside it again
But he wishes that we would crawl in

Where a child is waiting for you
When grown up dreams don’t come true
It sounds crazy, that a baby
Would ask for our hearts made of stone
And then give us a heart like his own
If we let him, he will begin
To make us all children again
We will be children again

God wrapped a gift that he hid in the world
Deep in the womb of an innocent girl
But when we were ready and on a dirt floor
Love found a way in and left open the door

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