It happened again today like it does every year at our church. We celebrated the advent season with a kids program during the Sunday school hour and watched as they sang, read and recited their hearts out. For some kids this event is a highlight of this time of the year and for others it is dreaded like the plague. You can kind of tell who they are too. There is the shy little girl who has a perpetual frown on her face during the whole program and when she catches her mother’s eye, she bursts into tears with an expression that says unmistakably – why did you do this to me? Just on the other side of the stage, however, is the little boy, with ants in his pants that just can’t stand still. He is belting out every song at the top of his voice and doesn’t care if everyone else has finished but him. When it comes time to recite a story, he jumps forward to be sure that everyone can see him as he forgets several of the key phrases and makes up a few of his own. Every now and again, though, you see something magical happen.
A little boy or girl is asked to read a passage from scripture and all the parents hold their breath and wonder how this is going to turn out. Can they handle the pressure of the solo assignment? Suddenly all eyes are on this little child reading a familiar passage and the world seems to stand still for just a moment. They are reading about a child just like themselves that is born into a world that was hostile and unforgiving. Then something special happens as the child realizes what they are reading and their face lights up with joy. Jesus was once a child too, just like them. Well, not quite, but they understand for the first time what the incarnation is all about and it seems to be happening in front of your eyes. This is no longer just a Christmas program in a local church. It is a sacred space where God speaks through a little child once again to people who need to hear the message that he cared enough to be born as an innocent, vulnerable child into world that would ultimately reject and kill him.
I was once one of those little kids involved in the annual Christmas program and as you can guess, I was not the shy one. I loved every moment of the pageantry and production that went into putting on the program and while I often sung out of tune, I belted out the Christmas carols with the rest of the kids. Not surprisingly, my love for books and reading at a very early age meant that I was called on to read out loud on many occasions as well. My mother never ceased to take advantage of this and also had us read the Christmas story out loud around the Christmas tree before we opened presents. While I and my siblings often thought this was overkill as we had probably heard the story about a dozen times every season, it would not have been Christmas for us without the story.
Something else happened today too. We sponsored a book table for kids, parents and grandparents with books, Bibles and devotionals. As the doors opened after the program and people came spilling out of the auditorium, a few of them made their way over to our table to sample the wares and see what we had to offer. You could tell that many of the adults hoped to create magic moments of their own as they planned to read with their special boy or girl this Christmas. For a few children that crowded around the table, you could see the twinkle in their eye as they imagined what it would be like to pick up a book and read to their family as they would have one more audience to dazzle. I hope, however, that for one or two kids, these books will provide that special moment when they turn to their mom or dad and ask that most important question – why did Jesus come to earth as a baby?