One of my greatest joys as a priest is visiting our students in the school. They ask some of the best questions and they say some of the most profound things. They also provide great material for homilies.
About a week ago I visited some of our first graders and I asked them, “If you could be any character in the Nativity Scene, who would it be?” They gave all the expected answers—Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, an angel, one of the shepherds, the donkey, one of the sheep. I then asked them, “If you could be that character, how would you feel?” Again, they gave all the expected answers—Happy, excited, joyful, peaceful. Then one boy in the corner of the room raised his hand and gave an answer which neither I nor his classmates were quite expecting. He said that if he was part of the Nativity Scene, he’d feel sad. The moment he said that his classmates turned on him and demanded to know why. “Why would you feel sad?” “Because I’d miss my family,” he replied. “But what if your family was with you?” his classmates responded. “Then I’d want to stay there forever,” the boy said.
It’s often been said that Christmas is best seen through the eyes of a child. And it’s not just the gifts under the tree, but the gift lying in the manger that make their eyes sparkle with wonder and delight. They can’t wait for Christmas to begin, and they never want it to end. They want to stay there with Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus, forever.
A child does not tire of monotony the same way an adult does. An adult will walk past a perfectly good slide without a second glance. They may even hurry past the slide if they are with a child. A child, on the other hand, with go down a slide a hundred times and still be as excited the hundredth time as they were the first. If you tell a funny joke to an adult, they may laugh, at least the first time you tell it. If you tell a funny joke to a child, they will ask you to tell it again, and again, and again. And they will laugh just as hard each time. An adult will read three pages of a book and immediately fall asleep at night. Read a good book to a child before they go to bed and by the end of it, they will beg you to read it again. “Do it again!” “Tell it again!” “Read it again!” Adults find monotony demanding; children demand monotony.
Observing this difference, the English author G. K. Chesterton once speculated whether God is not more like a child than an adult. Perhaps the reason why the sun rises every morning, Chesterton said, is because God does not tire of the monotony of it. Every morning God says, “Do it again!” to the sun. And every evening He says, “Do it again!” to the moon. Perhaps the reason why every daisy is the same, Chesterton continues, is not because of some necessity of nature, but because God has never grown tired of making each and every one of them. Perhaps God, who has existed from all eternity, is in fact younger than we are (Chesterton, Orthodoxy).
It’s a remarkable fact that God became man. But it’s an even more remarkable fact that He became a child. It’s with the eyes of a child, not those of an adult, that God first beheld the world He created. He had, of course, seen the world when He created it at the dawn of time. “And God saw that it was good,” we read in the Book of Genesis. But in the fullness of time, God finally beheld the world through the very eyes which He had created. And they were the eyes of a child. The first woman, the first man, the first donkey, the first sheep, the first piece of straw, the first star He saw were through those eyes. And it is through those same eyes, the eyes of a child, that we are invited to experience this Christmas.
This Christmas is the same Christmas as any year: it’s the same story, the same songs, the same characters in the Nativity Scene. But this year, perhaps more than years past, we may be tempted to look out upon the world with weary eyes, with jaded eyes, with eyes clouded by bitterness and cynicism. That’s why this year, perhaps more than years past, we need to experience Christmas through the eyes of a child. Let us not rush through this Christmas season. Let us linger at the Nativity Scene, let us want to stay there forever, with Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus. Let us not tire but exult and rejoice in the monotony of it all. “Do it again!” “Tell it again!” “Read it again!” May these be our rallying cries this Christmas. When we look out upon the world this Christmas, may it be through the eyes of the child Jesus who, on that first Christmas, looked out upon the world He created with wonder and delight. And the Child saw that it was good, very good.