Have a Happy Childlike New Year
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,
just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world
to be holy and blameless before him in love.
He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ,
according to the good pleasure of his will,
to the praise of his glorious grace
that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.
And so it is, finally, 2021. It seems ages ago that we last celebrated a new year. I feel that I---maybe all of us---have aged so much in 2020. The old saying is that “hindsight is 20-20"...but I’m not sure whether to look back. I, for one, am so ready to look forward.
I remember, growing up, the drawings on magazines like the Saturday Evening Post, showing the ending year as an Old Man, with the New Year as a New Baby, meeting one another at the New Year. Have you seen those? Nothing seems to sum up the current feeling of this time around. The Old Man must be so tired, so beaten by the year he has just endured. So I wonder: What does the Old Man of 2020 have to say to the New Baby of 2021? What message of hope or warning would he bring?
In fact, how do we, as adults, tell hard things to young children that are difficult to explain? Mostly, we use stories, don’t we? And when we tell those stories, don’t we find that children’s stories are as much for us, as adults, as they are for children?
C. S. Lewis’ wrote the dedication to The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe to his goddaughter Lucy Barfield. This is what he said to her:
My Dear Lucy, I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.
So are we “old enough” to hear these stories again, with fresh eyes and ears?
Charles Dickens, in the classic A Christmas Carol, writes: “For it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child Himself.”
I’ve always loved A Christmas Carol, and have watched endless film and TV versions of it over the years. Though it is a children’s tale, it is dark, stark and frightening at times, even the cartoon versions. But the one scene that gave me nightmares was when Scrooge is with the Ghost of Christmas Present, the large, loud, jolly-looking spirit who laughs a lot and loves the great abundance of joy around the season. But then Scrooge notices something under the Ghost’s enormous robe...do you remember this part? Some of the film versions don’t include this, but here is the original chapter from the Dickens story:
"'Forgive me if I am not justified in what I ask,' said Scrooge, looking intently at the Spirit's robe,' but I see something strange, and not belonging to yourself, protruding from your skirts. Is it a foot or a claw.' 'It might be a claw, for the flesh there is upon it,' was the Spirit's sorrowful reply. 'Look here.' From the folding of its robe, it brought two children; wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment. 'Oh, Man. look here. Look, look, down here.' exclaimed the Ghost. They were a boy and a girl. Yellow, meager, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shriveled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread. Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude. 'Spirit. are they yours.' Scrooge could say no more. 'They are Man's,' said the Spirit, looking down upon them. 'And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it.' cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. 'Slander those who tell it ye. Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And abide the end.'"
A Christmas Carol, Stave 3: The Second of the Three Spirits
As much as I wanted to cover my eyes while watching this scene, and still want to when I see it even now...Dickens knew that we need to face, in the Christmas present, what we have created in our world for our children: namely, Want & Ignorance.
Let’s start with the girl: Want
There is certainly much Want in our world, maybe this year more than ever, and we can try to point fingers at each other as to whose fault it is. Sometimes we can blame God for the want in our world. Didn’t God promise that He “richly furnishes us with everything to enjoy” (I Timothy 6:17). Why are so many people without?
Notice, though, the Scripture refers to “us” in the plural, that is, God provides to all of us everything to enjoy. Therein lies the key.
Let me give an illustration for you to consider:
Suppose I have ten families standing in front of me, and God has given me ten loaves of bread to share. What should I do? To give each family one loaf of bread would of course be the fair thing. But what if I were to dig a little deeper? What if I took the time to find out how each family is really doing, which ones have plenty and which are more in want? Knowing that, should I still give one loaf to each family? That would be fair...but not just. Fair is about dealing the cards out evenly. Justice means making that which is lacking...whole. And what God desires is justice:
He has showed you, O man,
what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice,
and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
So the solution to Want is Justice. And justice requires that we take the time to know our neighbor and understand their need.
And now, let’s look at the boy: Ignorance
The Ghost says we must “most of all beware” of the boy. Is Ignorance such a danger? First of all, it’s important that we separate ignorance from intelligence. There are scores of examples of how intelligent people can remain ignorant, as well as uneducated people be far from ignorant. No, ignorance has to do with avoiding knowledge or awareness in our daily lives, like in our example of the loaves of bread. We don’t want to find out others’ situation; don’t want to know who is most in need. We close our eyes and ears so we don’t become aware of what is truly going on around us. We stay in our comfortable little bubbles; bubbles which come in all shapes and sizes: with people who think just like us, look like us, talk like us. Those other people, outside our bubble, we don’t want to know them; so to justify us not sharing our lives with them, we create labels for them, in effect creating bubbles for them, too. We do this now, perhaps most drastically, over the Internet. It’s so easy, isn’t it? We can create whole worlds that exclude others; we never have to know. But Jesus has some harsh words for us on this:
Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.”
Some of the Pharisees near him heard this, and they said to him, “Are we also blind?”
Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.
Even Dickens gives a dire warning, that on this boy’s brow is written one word: DOOM. Ignorance is truly what we need to beware of...it is the blindness that destroys us.
The thing about children is that children demonstrate both extremes of who we can be as humans. This can be illustrated by the two words, childish and childlike, and how we use them to describe kids:
The word childish is often attributed to things about kids that we find frustrating or irritating, such as:
Stop being so childish or
She’s having a childish tantrum
While the word childlike is often attributed to things about kids that we find inspiring or delightful:
He has such a childlike quality about him or
She sees the world with childlike wonder
So instead of being childish, can we not become childlike again, like the Young Baby of the New Year? Can we not put aside our prejudice, our stubbornness, our selfishness, our childishness, and become wide-eyed, filled with wonder and hope, open to what God wants to show us? After all, do we not trust that we have a loving Father in heaven, who gives us everything to enjoy...we only have to open our eyes, our ears, and our hearts, and share it?
There is a childhood into which we have to grow,
just as there is a childhood which we must leave behind;
a childlikeness which is the highest gain of humanity,
and a childishness from which but few of those
who are counted the wisest among men,
have freed themselves in their imagined progress
towards the reality of things.
And so we say, with Tiny Tim: God bless us, everyone!