Advent Devotional – December 23
Advent Week 4: Love
Matthew 19:14-15, NRSV
Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.’ And he laid his hands on them and went on his way.
Children are exhausting. I spend a lot of my time trying to keep my daughter corralled when in public. I’m self-conscious about letting this giant energy suck that I live with drain the life forces of innocent bystanders, so I say a lot of “stay over heres” and “get out of theres” and “please stand by mes”. I would no doubt have done exactly the same thing as these disciples did if my child ran up to Jesus: “Honey, please give this nice Messiah some space. Come on, sweetie, I’m sure the Son of God has somewhere to be, so let go of his cloak, please.”
Children are so much work. I signed up for it, but I won’t assume that others have – or at least, that they haven’t signed up for the work that my child takes. Because it’s nonstop. Brushing her teeth, picking out her clothes, begging her to help around the house, redoing whatever chores she did around the house, giving her a bath, packing her snack for school, begging her to just sit still and eat her freaking dinner. Bringing my child to a social gathering feels like I’m bringing a construction foreman who will bark orders at anyone standing still to haul a load of bricks and start mixing the concrete.
In the divine reversal spiritual truths of the Gospel, however, it makes perfect sense that Jesus would want children to come to him. After all, that is how God came to us: as a child. The Advent season is a time when we worship God as a tiny, helpless bundle of flesh that needs everything and does nothing. That’s usually not the aspect of the Christ-infant we focus on. We talk about promise and potential and new life. That’s all true, too, of course. Just like when we were pregnant we sat around and talked about the promise of our child’s potential and new life. No one talked about the constant work, though. We didn’t sigh and pine for the sheer helplessness of our newborn infant who would require more energy and effort than any endeavor we’d ever undertaken.
What does it mean that the kingdom of heaven belongs to those who are defenseless and vulnerable? To the people who are the least conscious of the demands they make on others? To the most dependent and powerless among us? Are we really prepared for the radical reversal of spiritual power evident in God’s appearance among us as a baby? Are we open to caring for God – losing sleep and sanity as we invest every aspect of our lives to the cultivation of spiritual wellbeing and growth in another?
As any parent or caregiver can attest, caring for a child of any age is exhausting. It’s also life-changing in bountiful ways. This Advent, may we, like Jesus, be open to the transformative possibilities of giving yourself to those who need our care.
Prayer: God, as you come to us as a child, may we be generous and open in caring for your holy presence among us.
Action: This week, do something for a child who you do not share parenting responsibilities for.
Daniel Miles is Assistant Director of Spiritual Care at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, NC.