ATE FRIDAY MORNING, I was over at a nearby cemetery doing a committal service. On my way back to the parish, I turned on the local news radio station, because I wanted to hear the details about the pitching trades the Phillies had made earlier in the day. What I actually heard, though, was something about a school shooting in Connecticut. To be honest, I didn’t think too much of it, probably because you hear about so many shootings these days. But, when I parked my car back at the rectory, something subconsciously made me walk through our school on my way back to the parish offices.
I walked down the hallway with our kindergarten classrooms, and I saw a few of our youngest students standing at the classroom door. As I walked by, one of the little girls looked right at me. She had two ponytails, bangs, and a gap between her front teeth. Looking up at me, she took her little hand and waved it at me feverishly. As I waved back, I thought to myself, “Isn’t she precious?” Then, all of a sudden, it hit me. Yes, she is, literally, precious—beyond price, unrepeatable, and irreplaceable. I couldn’t fathom, in my wildest imagination, how anyone could intentionally harm such a beautiful, innocent, happy child.
We live in a culture that does awful, wicked things to children. Our culture exploits children. It neglects children. It abuses children. We contracept children. We kill children before they’re born (and even while they’re being born). We live in a culture that does awful, wicked things to children.
But still, how could someone shoot a first grader? It’s one thing when a soldier or police officer shoots a person because they are being physically threatened. But no one is threatened by a simple child. So, why do we act so threatened by children? Today’s average American family has only 1.8 children. Four thousand American mothers “choose” to kill their baby every day. The most dangerous place in the United States isn’t Camden or Detroit or LA. It’s the mother’s womb, because there’s a 27% chance you won’t make it out of there alive. What’s the big threat? Why are we so afraid?
We’re not the first people ever to feel threatened by children. There was once a man named Herod the Great, who ruled over the Jewish people. He heard whispers about a Baby to be born. Three kings from the east had told Herod that this Baby would be a great King. He felt his own authority being threatened, so this “Herod the Great” ordered that all the baby boys in Bethlehem be killed. In our Church, we call these children the “Holy Innocents”; we celebrate their feast day on December 28th. Herod felt insecure, and so he did something heinous. He committed an atrocity so he could feel safe and to protect his own convenience.
All of this goes to show us something about ourselves and our situation. I daresay we have (collectively) lost the ability to welcome the child. Whereas Jesus says, “Let the children come to me,” we say, “Take them away; don’t plague me with children.” Maybe that’s why God became a Baby at Christmas: so that we could learn to welcome Him. In just over a week, we are going to see the Christ Child lying in a manger. He came as a harmless Baby, and yet He inspired fear in the heart of Herod.
But God is not threatened by children. In the Book of Zephaniah, He actually refers to us, with great affection, as His daughter. He says, “Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Be glad and exult, O daughter Jerusalem!” (Zep 3:14). He goes on to promise that “He will rejoice over [us] with gladness” (Zep 3:17). Now that’s an image of how we should respond to children: with joy & gladness & rejoicing. We should take a lesson from God, Who calls us His daughter and rejoices over us. We must learn to welcome the child, which is what Advent is all about. After all, in the eyes of God, we are all children.
When I saw that beautiful girl with the ponytails waving at me, I felt powerfully how precious every child is. I hope that, when we see the Christ Child in the manger this Christmas, we will all be moved just as powerfully. And I hope we will learn that Jesus demands that we welcome His children with joy & gladness & rejoicing.