“At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them, and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 18:1-4, RSV).

In this passage, Jesus is not saying “be like a child, or else!” but rather, “throw off the concerns, and hubris, and striving for greatness, and the stress of adulthood and relax!” To put it in other words and the Christmas-spirit from the poet laureate of modern Christmas himself, Charles Dickens, “It is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas when the Great Creator was a child himself” (Scrooge in A Christmas Carol).

On this day of gift-giving and tradition and revelry, we are reminded to be like children. We are told not only on this day but every day, that our job is to receive. It is undoubtedly true that it is better to give than receive, and our God has chosen the better part, so we must be satisfied to receive it.

This Christmas, remember your status as a child of God and see what you can learn from kids at Christmas teaches us about the joys of expectation, receiving, and rest.

I am currently in the golden years of Christmas with young children. My sons, ages seven and 10, have their memories just teased by a few years of tradition, and the gaudy decorations match the unbridled excitement of them as they sleep with dreams of sugarplums...or I guess, Legos and lots of candy.

This Christmas, remember your status as a child of God and see what you can learn from kids at Christmas teaches us about the joys of expectation, receiving, and rest.

Christmas Expectation

Of course, the excitement is part of what makes it all so great. It’s why we have the season of Advent leading us up to this glorious celebration. We are “practicing” waiting. We see this every year when we groan for Christmas carols to supplant the lesser-known Advent carols or when we start decorating in the second week of November.

In the Old Testament, we see how Israel was taught to wait for the Advent of the coming Messiah. The Psalmist writes:

“I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord

in the land of the living!

Wait for the Lord;

be strong, and let your heart take courage;

yea, wait for the Lord! (Ps 27:13-14)

And as we recreate that waiting on the first Advent, we are reminded to wait for that second Advent as well. The New Testament is replete with the call and promise of waiting on God. The author to the Epistle to the Hebrews writes, “So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Heb 9:28).

Jude tells us to “wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life” (Jude 28). Paul reminds us that it is indeed the whole world that is waiting for the Advent of the Messiah to usher in the Kingdom of Heaven. “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom 8:22-23).

I like when my sons start to peek into our closets, have a hard time sleeping, and wake up at the crack of dawn to get the unwrapping rolling. In this, we might get some sense of the kind of expectations we might have as we train ourselves to wait in the hope of the promises of the second Advent of Christ.

Christmas Receiving

As much as kids may love the revelry and tradition, they are all about the presents. I know we want to focus on things other than consumerism and getting “stuff,” but let’s not go full Grinch and pretend that the presents aren’t sometimes the best part of all. We teach them selflessness and sacrifice. Still, even the givers can get joy out of seeing someone so unabashedly excited for new things.

In the sermon on the mount, Jesus reassures the poor, both materially and in spirit, that they can indeed expect to receive. And as Paul writes, “What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him?” (Rom 8:31-32, RSV).

As Christians, we are not cold ascetics, depriving ourselves in the here and hereafter. We are given good things from our heavenly Father in heaven, and even a foretaste of the things to come. We can spare ourselves the “yeah, but” and bask in the joy of receiving. Don’t worry about the nagging and the sense that there has got to be a catch. Just enjoy and receive good gifts like our children.

As Christians, we are not cold ascetics, depriving ourselves in the here and hereafter. We are given good things from our heavenly Father in heaven, and even a foretaste of the things to come.

Christmas Rest

Perhaps this part resonates with us as parents the most: the promise of rest. These can be torrid times, and nothing is better than a Christmas day nap after the wrappings have been binned and toys gathered into the rooms with stockings full of sweets. Even in our celebrating, we become tired. We grow weary with the waiting and begin to fill our time with tasks and events we are sure are meaningful. Sometimes we feel that rest is undeserved, and sometimes rest is impossible. But take yourself back to the last time you filled yourself with good things and good company and then fell asleep by a fire or on a couch. Look at your children when they inevitably crash on this most exciting of days. And when we finally put our feet up, we can enjoy the waiting, the receiving, and now resting.

But when we yearn for rest, we are reminded that we grow weary because all is not ok. The Christmas season can be a time of expectation and joy, but also heartbreak. As I celebrate with my family, I am keenly aware of those who are not, for those that might have lost children or been unable to conceive, and also of those that have not had a healthy, loving childhood relationship with their parents, or for whom the parent/child relationship has soured. The confession that we believe in God the Father, maker of heaven and earth from the Apostles’ Creed resonates all that much more. Our parents, and our parenting might, frankly, suck. In a broken world, no one is guaranteed the ideal situation. However, the Christmas incarnation represents the reversal of every piece of bad news and every tragedy.

Christmas isn’t just for children or those with children. It’s also not for those who are appropriately child-like and even those adults who have a hard time ceasing their childish ways. Santa may be making a list and checking it twice, but Jesus does the opposite. Go to sleep tonight, this Christmas night, sleeping in comfort, filled with good things, and safe in your place as a beloved child of God.