Joseph with Infant Jesus, Guido Reni, 1635
But I kept thinking about my choice after the clergy games had moved on to the Yankee Swap and Guess That Christmas Movie. (Which I won for our team, by the way. I guessed Home Alone 2 on the first clue in the tie-breaking round. Not that I am bragging.… Well, maybe I am.)
Anyway, now I think that I would chose a different symbol of Christmas: a child. Not only does a child point to the infant Christ and thereby capture the religious meaning of the holiday, it also speaks to those who do not necessarily identify as Christians. The holidays are all about children. The smaller the child, the more magical Christmas can be for them.
I enjoy holiday events the most through my grandchildren. I would not have enjoyed a recent visit to Santa very much if it wasn’t for the way my kids looked at him. Without them I would see an old pretender; through their eyes I see a magical elf. One of the highlights of my Christmas is going to Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church in Concord and watching my nine year-old grandson participate in the Christmas Eve pageant.
I remember fondly the Christmas children’s programs that every one of my churches held at Christmas time. I love the unexpected, spontaneous things that small children do and say during the program. I love seeing the glow in the faces of the parents in the congregation as they watch their children act out the ancient story.
Christmas is all about children. Their innocent faith as they sit on Santa’s lap and share their wishes. Their anticipation of the big day and their joy on Christmas morning. Opening the stockings. There is something about children that captures the spirit of Christmas.
This is particularly true of the youngest of children. Those too young to know what is happening symbolize the holiday for me. Especially the infant chosen to play the role of the Christ child in Christmas pageants and Live Nativities. For a few minutes they become the Christ.
Every infant is the Promised One to their parents. I remember reading that in first century Palestine the expectation of a coming Messiah was so high that every Jewish parent truly thought that their baby might be the one to redeem Israel. “Could this be the Messiah,” visitors to every newborn’s bedside would wonder.
Every child represents the Christ child in a deep archetypal way. An infant is a new beginning for our families and the human race, full of possibilities. She is a potential messiah, who might save the world from its many problems. He might be the one to discover the cure for cancer. She might be the leader to bring lasting peace to the earth.
Children evoke the child in me. They are mediators of the divine, sacraments in human form. I think Jesus felt the same way. He said, “Let the little children come to me and forbid them not, of such are the kingdom of God.” He insisted that we have to become like little children to enter the Kingdom of God.
That is why the prophet said that the child was to be named Immanuel, which means “God with us.” For this reason I amend my vote. My choice for the symbol of Christmas is a child. “For unto us a child is born, and his name shall be called Wonderful….”