How Receiving God's Gift, Like a Child, is the Only Way
I remember well the wondrous anticipation I experienced every Christmas Eve throughout my childhood. I couldn’t wait to get up the next morning and run out to the tree to see what was under it. In those years, it would still be dark outside when my brother, sister, and I would wake our parents on Christmas mornings.
I couldn’t have imagined, then, how I could possibly love Christmas morning any more than I already did. But it happened. My love for Christmas grew exponentially after I had my own kids.
Even more fun than getting presents for myself has been watching my children experience the joy and wonder of Christmas morning as they unwrap the presents my husband and I lovingly choose for them. Their joy is mine, multiplied. The following verse has shown itself true to me,
“In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Acts 20:35 (ESV)
Children are uncomplicated when it comes to the giving and receiving of gifts. When they get something they’re excited about, they enjoy it, pure and simple.
Adults are more complex. Have you ever received a gift from someone when you were unprepared to reciprocate…and then felt terrible? Or maybe you were able to reciprocate, but you were embarrassed, because what you got for the other person wasn’t as nice as what they got for you. Please tell me I’m not the only one who has let, what was supposed to be a joyful moment, be ruined by these self-wrought complications! I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I’ve also had some bad moments, where I was disappointed because I thought I deserved a better gift.
Being that we’re in the midst of the Christmas season, I was thinking about children and the way they respond to gifts when I recently read a familiar Bible passage. It stood out to me in a new way.
“And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.” Mark 10:13-16 (ESV)
How does one receive the kingdom of God like a child?
I thought about the way a child receives a precious gift on Christmas morning.
Unfettered. Joyful. Acceptance.
What does a young child have to give in return for their gifts (other than a smile, a thank you, and their affection)? Nothing. They don’t have anything that hasn’t already been given to them. And they’re not worried about it. Neither are the givers of those gifts. The joy we get is in seeing the excitement on a beloved child’s face when we’re able to give then something good because we love them.
I know, the old story goes, that only good children get gifts from Santa…and the rest get coal. Seriously? What kind of parent would actually put coal in a child’s stocking, even if that child were very bad! Christmas is a time of grace. This grace is a reflection of a greater grace. God sent his Son as a helpless baby on that first Christmas, to an undeserving world, to live, die, and rise again. This was his gift to us, to make a way for us to be part of his kingdom, as sons and daughters…because he loves us.
“The saddest part of the Santa myth is not that there's a jolly fellow who drops off gifts for kids...or even that it's a myth. The saddest part is that he represents the "what goes around comes around" grace-crushing paradigm that is simply terrible news, for us all!” -Elyse Fitzpatrick (quote from her Facebook page)
The kingdom of God is available to us as a gift. We don’t earn it. It’s not even possible. We don’t deserve it (we’ve all been bad Romans3:23). There’s no way we can ever repay Jesus for what he did for us. The Gospel is a message of grace. Our response requires unfettered, joyful, acceptance. Here’s where we need humility, like a child. When Jesus told the people around him that, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it, I think THIS is what he was talking about. I think it was a rebuke to the Pharisees and other people who thought they could enter the kingdom through their own good works.
God’s gift of salvation is freely offered, through Jesus, because he loves you. All you need to do is accept it (Acts 16:31). I believe that when we receive his precious gift with joy, our joy is his, multiplied.
“Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15:10 (ESV)
In closing, I want to leave you with an image that I came across while writing this post. When I saw this pastel, titled, "My Child", by David Bowman, it brought tears to my eyes. I was so touched by it's beauty. This image speaks volumes to me, about the tenderness and love that Jesus has for me and for you. I see the way Jesus invites us to relate to him. When I think of the words of Jesus in Mark 10:13, telling the people around him to receive the kingdom of God like a child, I will think of the excitement of my own children, opening presents on Christmas morning and I will think of this image depicting Jesus holding this child, with love so evident.