Welcome to Christmas Eve! We are so glad you are here. I’ll begin this short sermon with a story. My closest brush with fame was the time I went fishing with Mr. Rogers. This was 30 years ago, before I became a fisher of men, and I was just a fisher of fish. Like everybody my age, I grew up watching Mr. Rogers.
Then on a magical evening in late September on Eel Point in Nantucket, when the sun was setting over island and the moon was rising over the water and the bluefish were in a feeding frenzy just past the breakers, a fish on with every other cast, I looked to my left and there in the gloaming, on the beach was Mr. Rogers, all 145 pounds of him, wrestling a 10 pound blue from the ocean. I didn’t want to bother him, so we just kept fishing. Now, I wish I’d said hello and thank you to this fellow minister. It was beautiful day in the neighborhood.
There is a Mr. Rogers resurgence going on right now. But the truth and power of his message has never waned. And it is a message that is especially appropriate at Christmas. And what is that message?
A recent Atlantic article tells about a time when a group of doctors asked Mr. Rogers to develop a manual about how to talk to children. Mr. Rogers was busy, so he asked a child development specialist to write a first draft. She worked hard on the project, employing all her skill and experience. But when she handed the lengthy draft to Mr. Rogers, he looked it over, and then crossed out her entire work. He replaced it with these simple words: “Remember, you were once a child, too.” Mr. Rogers believed if you remembered what it was like to be a child, you would remember that you were a child of God.
Remember, you were once a child, too. There is good reason that we want to be around children at Christmas and experience the wonder of the season through the eyes of a child. Life looks much different at knee level, doesn’t it? Christmas trees are so much bigger. Stockings miraculously appear by the fireplace. Christmas lights twinkle with a deeper magic. Presents are so much harder to wait for.
Remember, you were once a child, too. One of the best stories from a child’s perspective is Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory. Capote, who remained something of child himself in his life, tells an autobiographical story of his life as a child with his relatives in Alabama in the 1940s. He describes his friend – an elderly cousin whom the world would call slow or mentally impaired.
He writes, “A woman with shorn white hair is standing at the kitchen window. She is wearing tennis shoes and a shapeless gray sweater over a summery calico dress. ‘Oh my,’ she exclaims, her breath smoking the windowpane, ‘it’s fruitcake weather!’ “The person to whom she is speaking is myself. I am seven; she is sixty-something. We are cousins, very distant ones, and we have lived together – well as long as I can remember. Other people inhabit the house, relatives; and though they have power over us and frequently make us cry, we are not, on the whole, too much aware of them. We are each other’s best friend. She calls me Buddy, in memory of a boy who was formerly her best friend. The other Buddy died in the 1880’s, when she was still a child. She is still a child.”
Remember, you were once a child, too. Jesus seems to agree with Mr. Rogers. He even goes so far as to say, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them! For the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Note that he doesn’t just say “child”, he said “little child.”
Just to be clear, there is nothing sentimental or naive about what Jesus says. He knows, just like every parent of young children knows, that children are not pure and innocent. They are sinners just like the rest of us, just in miniature versions.
Seminary friends tell the story of their 5 year-old son, Jack. They walked by his door and heard him praying out loud by himself. Isn’t that nice, they said –we must be doing something right. Then they listened more closely to Jack’s prayer –“Please, please, please… dear Santa I want my presents! I’ll get better! I promise! Pleas just bring me presents! Santa, please!”
Remember, you were once a child, too. At the center of the Christmas story, of course, is a child. In a classic retelling of the story, Charlie Brown, who is about 10 years old, asks in exasperation, “Isn’t there someone who knows what Christmas is all about?” That’s when Linus, a child of 6 or 7, recites the story from Luke. “And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that (Mary) should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.”
At it’s conclusion, with a child’s simplicity, he says, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” But don’t be fooled – just because the story is told and received with a child’s simplicity, doesn’t mean it’s just a fish story! The reason to believe the Christmas story is simply because its true.
At Christmas it is important to remember that you were once a child, too. But, it is even more important to remember that God was once a child too. That’s what Christmas is all about. As C. S. Lewis said about the Incarnation, “The Son of God became a child to enable people to become children of God.” Jesus surrendered his power, becoming a little child so that you and I could enter the Kingdom of God.
St. Theresa was right – “A God who became so small could only be mercy and love.”
When it was Truman Capote’s moment to enter the Kingdom of God, his last words were, “It’s me, Buddy.” Remember, you were once a child, too.
“Child, for us sinners poor and in the manger… O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.” Merry Christmas and Amen.