[Jesus] called a child, whom he put among them, and said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.’”
Today, we continue in our special devotional series for Advent and Christmas. Last week, we began to examine the transformed life of the fictional character Ebenezer Scrooge, the protagonist of Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol. He who once considered Christmas to be a “humbug” came to treasure it. As Dickens writes about the transformed Scrooge, he “knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.”
So far, we have seen that Scrooge kept Christmas well by making amends, living in the past, the present, and the future, and laughing joyfully. All of these practices are commended to us, not just by Scrooge, but also by Scripture. Today we’ll add something else to the list.
In Stave Five of A Christmas Carol, after Scrooge had been changed through his spiritual encounters, he celebrated with whimsical laughter. Then, he said to himself, “I don’t know what day of the month it is!” said Scrooge. “I don’t know how long I’ve been among the Spirits. I don’t know anything. I’m quite a baby. Never mind. I don’t care. I’d rather be a baby. Hallo! Whoop! Hallo here!” The man who had once prided himself on his stern maturity was acting like a child, filled with giddiness and uncharacteristic ignorance.
Jesus commended similar childlikeness in the eighteenth chapter of Matthew’s gospel. His disciples asked Jesus, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” No doubt, they were hoping that his answer would affirm their own greatness. Jesus’ disruptive response was not what they were expecting. Calling a child to stand among his disciples, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (18:3).
Unless you change and become like children . . . sounds rather like Scrooge in the final chapter of A Christmas Carol. Yet, in calling us to childlikeness, Jesus was not thinking primarily of giddiness or ignorance. Rather, we are to be children, first of all, in our humility. The path to greatness in God’s kingdom begins as we humble ourselves, putting aside our desire for greatness. Moreover, in our humility we are set free to welcome all in God’s name, even children, who lack power and privilege. Our very notion of greatness will be overturned in the kingdom of God as we follow the way of Jesus the servant.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
In what ways might you experience childlikeness, especially during the seasons of Advent and Christmas?
When you hear Jesus say that you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven unless you become like a child, how do you respond?
How can you be humble, like a child, and still be a leader?
Gracious God, I must confess that so much of me does not want to be like a child. I want to be grown up and strong. I want to be in control of my life. I want to be well regarded. I don’t need to be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, but I’d like to rank high on that list.
Yet you call me to childlikeness, not presumptuous maturity. You call me to humility, not grandiosity. You call me to reliance on you, not self- sufficiency. You invite me to trust you simply, as young children trust their parents. Help me, Lord, to be before you as a child, so that I might live under your reign. Amen.