For the past few weeks, I have heard two questions over and over: “Are your children excited about Christmas?” and “Are you ready for Christmas yet?” People ask them all the time—on the way out of church, in the aisle at the grocery store, before we hang up the phone, or as we say goodbye during a hospital visit. It seems that everyone wants to know whether my kids are overcome with Christmas excitement and whether I have done everything I need to do to get ready.
These two questions say a lot about the culture in which we live, and my reaction to them says even more about me. The first brings a smile to my face as I pause even for a moment to consider the joy that is growing exponentially each day in my children’s hearts. The second brings a thin layer of perspiration to my forehead as it reminds me of a growing weight that lives in my stomach this time of year. My children are more than ready. Each night, they ask me how many days are left until Christmas, and then they ask me to recalculate the total without including today or Christmas Day so that the countdown feels shorter. I, on the other hand, need every second of every day between now and Christmas Eve to get ready. I have presents to buy, a house to help decorate, parties to attend, a sermon to write, people to visit, and services to plan. I am not alone in feeling the pressure of this season. Most grownups I know are busy right now.
When was it that getting ready for Christmas became more of a challenge than a joy? How old was I when I grew up and exchanged unbridled enthusiasm for burdened responsibility? Was it the first year I was old enough to gather my allowance and walk into town to buy my mother a Christmas present all on my own? Did it happen when I started dating and had to figure out how to navigate the holidays within a relationship? Did it come with marriage or ordination or the birth of our first child? The answer, of course, is not found in one particular moment or in one particular Christmas. Instead, over time I have allowed the busyness of the holiday rush to squeeze the joy out of this magical season.
One day throngs of people were coming to Jesus and bringing little children to him so that he might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them for burdening their master with these pint-sized distractions. When Jesus saw what they were doing, he was filled with anger, and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not get in their way. The kingdom of God belongs to little ones like these. In fact, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as if he or she were a little child can never enter it” (Mark 10:13-15).
What will it take to leave our burdens behind and embrace this season as if we were little children? What can we do to recapture the fairy-tale Christmases of our youth? What can set us free from the challenges of getting ready for Christmas and instead tune our hearts to the uncontainable joy that bursts from every child’s heart? Whatever it is, we must search for it and find it. Much is at stake—far more than a few days of fun. Our ability to greet our savior’s birth with childlike wonder is the difference between beholding the kingdom of God and missing it altogether.