There’s a story about Jesus where He says a confusing line: “To inherit the kingdom of heaven, you’ve got to become like a little child.”
Hey Jesus, I don’t know when was the last time you babysat a kid, but, sometimes they can be a little… uh… how should I say it, bratty? I mean they’re great and all! But what do you MEAN be like a kid?
Someone told me once that Scripture is like a diamond – examine it carefully in the light, and you’ll see more and more facets the more you look. In my experience, that has proven true, even with confusing lines.
Perhaps a shimmering facet of the “diamond” of this line is about remembering how to be in relationship, like a kid knows how to be in relationship.
I remember meeting my first baby nephew, born the day after I turned 15. I remember the weeks to follow, learning how to hold a newborn, how to cradle the head just right, how to rock him when he fussed. Later, with more nieces and nephews, I kept learning: how to feed them, change them, and get them to giggle and show off toothless smiles when I’d play with them.
And I remember being absolutely stunned that they knew nothing except trust. I remember being 15, holding this tiny little baby, and clearly thinking to myself, He has no idea, that I have no idea what I’m doing. He should be so nervous! But he wasn’t. He just… slept. Cuddled up. Anxiety was still foreign. He mostly just wanted to be near to his parents.
Be like a little child.
I’m told I spent most Saturdays of my first couple years of life on the sidelines of my older siblings’ soccer games. Apparently, as long as I knew my family was around, the hot hours on a noisy sideline didn’t bother me in the least.
Be like a little child.
Last time I visited family, my youngest niece came dashing up to me when I walked in the door, then dashed right back away, too breathless to even say hello. Seconds later she came pounding back in with two picture books in hand. Aunt Katy, will you READ TO ME?!! No decorum, no polite greetings, just pure excitement to be with me and an assumption that I would be happy to hold her and read to her.
Be like a little child.
It’s so easy to forget what Jesus wants us to remember, what kids seem to grasp so naturally: relationships. Being with someone. Trusting. Peace. Asking for help.
Be like a little child.
This advent, as we think on peace, we do so remembering Christ’s words: Be like a little child. Trust. Assume Jesus wants to see you, be with you, hold you. He is our Prince of Peace, and we experience that peace by living in relationship with Him.
Jesus, show us how to live in relationship with you like a kid.
How do you feel about running?
I ran track in 7th grade. And then I quit track. I wasn’t (that) bad, I just hated it. I went in thinking I could jog around a track and chat with my friends, maybe collect a couple medals along the way. I quickly realized that the huffing and puffing and days of sore muscles was not my style. You mean I have to WORK at this? No way.
I remember being very certain that I was able, I just didn’t want to practice. I knew I was lucky because some people are not physically able to run, but even though I could, I just – didn’t.
Fast forward to 2020. I was going a little crazy being stuck at home as much as I was (don’t we all know that feeling!) I was feeling so crazy, in fact, that I wondered if huffing and puffing and days of sore muscles might help me feel not quite so trapped.
For the first time since I was 12, I started consistently running again. Along with a friend, I began training for a virtual 5k race. I knew I was physically able, it was simply a matter of deciding to, a matter of arranging my schedule and diet and sleep to support what I knew I was capable of. A matter of pushing my limits and getting uncomfortable and testing just how far and fast I was able to go (ahem, spoiler: still not very far, nor very fast. Haha.) I started celebrating the fact I was practicing, instead of comparing myself to others or wishing I could go further, faster. I would get home from even my very worst runs and instead of being down on myself, I’d say out loud: “I ran. It wasn’t good, but I still am practicing. I haven’t quit.”
I was elated after my first virtual 5k. I had done it! There was something magical about the fact that I had done what I always knew in theory that I could do, but simply hadn’t practiced. I went from being able to run, to running.
1 John 3 reminds us that because the Spirit dwells in us, we are capable of Love. True Love. We have the ability! 1 John 3 also reminds us that just “being able” isn’t the point. Little children, let’s not love just in word or talk but in deed and truth. It means more to practice love – even if it’s with some huffing and puffing and sore muscles! – than it does to just talk about it.
God’s love is never theoretical. Jesus didn’t just think about His ability to come to earth to reconcile us to God. He didn’t just imagine how cool it would be to have relationships with each and every one of us. No, He did it. He knew what He was capable of and He loved in deed and truth. Then He sent His Spirit so that each one of us is capable of that same sacrificial love. The Holy Spirit is abiding – dwelling, settling – inside of everyone who follows Jesus, so that we are capable of sharing that same limitless love that was given to us.
If you follow Jesus, you are fully capable of practicing love. Yes, it might come with huffing and puffing and it might not be pretty some days. But it’s a capability that comes with the Spirit living inside of you! You have more power than just your own. This Advent season, we have a chance to remember and celebrate that because Jesus loved us, we have a capability we never had before – a capability to practice loving God and loving others.
My kitchen sink stopped draining a couple nights ago. It was late enough that I didn’t want to deal with it, but – you know those problems? If you leave it alone, you’ve got to deal with it in the morning anyway.
I turned to my roommate, trying for the easy way out:
“Let’s just go buy some Drain-O tomorrow and I’m sure it’ll be good as new. Right?”
My roommate looked at me and looked at the sink, backed up for the third time that month.
“I’m pretty sure the whole pipe needs to be removed and cleaned.”
The funny thing is, no one meant to ruin our kitchen sink. No one spent their midnights shoveling food down the drain, thinking, “This will stop up the sink, muhaha!” No one intentionally filled that pipe with sludge so that it wouldn’t drain.
Sometimes, life happens. And in those cases, the solution usually isn’t as easy as Drain-O. It’s a lot more like dissembling and cleaning all the pipes.
It’s tempting to believe that as long as we steer clear of intentional error, that we’ll be okay. The sink can’t be stopped up, because, we didn’t shove food down the drain! It’s not our fault!
Unfortunately, just like my sink, life is often broken even if our consciences are clear.
The story we read in the Bible about the beginning of the world and the fall of man, makes one thing painfully obvious: humanity is living under a curse. The world is cursed. Things aren’t as they should be, and we can’t fix it by just by being good people.
Hard as that is to comprehend a “curse” in California in 2020 – where we value objective facts and moral congruency – it’s hard to argue with the fact that some things in our world are just plain broken. Something is wrong. You may not agree on all of them, but most everyone I meet feels passionately that at least one or two of these points are seriously, seriously messed up:
the American political system,
the institutional church,
If you feel one of these things is “not as it should be”, it’s an echo of that curse. Our individual efforts, all added up, still don’t cut it. We need something – someone – to disassemble the pipes and give us a fresh start, because Drain-O isn’t going to fix it.
In the Bible, Genesis 3:15 gives us hope for the future right in the middle of this cursed, broken world. There’s a curse, yes (and that’s a story for another day how all THAT happened), but there’s also a promise.
“I will put enmity between you (serpent) and the woman, between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
Or, loosely translated, “Damn snakes.”
…literally! The serpent responsible for tempting Eve into eating the forbidden fruit – the snake, the very symbol of evil in this story – gets cursed, but it’s a promise of hope for us.
Advent is an annual celebration of the fact that this very promise came true in Jesus. The snakes – all that is evil and wrong in the world, every backed up sink, those systemic problems, everything we can’t fix on an individual level – the curse isn’t permanent. There’s a way out. Every advent, we celebrate the way out in Jesus.
What started in a garden with a snake, ends in another garden with a tomb.
This is the opening of advent: an acknowledgement of things being very, very wrong – not only individually, but systemically too – and depending on God’s promise to create a solution for us, a way of rescue.
Oh and, about an hour later, we had our sink running just fine again. It was nice to wake up to a working sink! Ha!
Til next time,