What is the best welcome you have ever received? Maybe it was coming into the home of a dear friend or family member, someone you have been planning to visit for a long time, and both of you are excited to spend time together? Maybe it was coming home after a long trip away. Perhaps the best welcome is arriving home to children who delight that you’re finally there!!!, and they greet you with palpable excitement, contagious affection, loud and abundant joy.
When Jesus was born, his coming had been long foretold, but his welcome was comparatively tiny. The world Jesus came into would not recognize or receive him (Jn. 1:10-11). Yet, for that stark truth, we see him anticipated in a unique way by two people: Joseph and Mary. Mary, who beautifully said “I am the Lord’s servant,” welcomed this little babe and served him. Joseph also welcomes Jesus by obeying God the Father – first by wedding Mary, and then by protecting their family from Herod by going to Egypt.
For Christians, when we celebrate Jesus’s birth, we take time to remember that this God-man was born. We remember that he was a baby – and in his humanity, he needed the care and attention all of us did. The God who made the whole world was served in humility by his mother, protected by his heavenly and earthly fathers; he was loved and cherished. Consequently, as he grew up, he would move from being served to serving all humanity through his teaching, his ministry, his death, and resurrection.
With this welcome in mind, we can read Jesus’s words in Matthew 19:14 a little bit differently – where he tells the disciples to let the little children come to me, and don’t hinder them. Once, Jesus himself was a little child and he himself was welcomed. The welcome of Jesus to the world he created did not happen with great pomp or celebration – it was ordinary. His birth was proclaimed not to thousands of people, but very quietly – first by his mother and father, and later by kings and shepherds to worship the King of kings and the good shepherd.
Welcoming children is a gift and a responsibility for all Christians. This is possible no matter what stage of life we are in – single, married, young, old. On Sundays, we can do it by serving in children’s ministry; by praying for the Sunday school teachers who labor in love; by showing them what it is to worship our King. On other days, we do it by preparing food; entering into homes or inviting into ours; by inviting kids into our lives, whatever that looks like. It’s a messy, loud, chaotic, beautiful blessing. And it’s something our Savior had the courage to do himself – so we can do the same.
We may slip into believing Jesus was an easy child to parent precisely because he was God. But while it is true that Jesus was perfect and sinless, it’s also true that we are not natural servants. Many times children highlight that truth – we do not like to be inconvenienced, to have to exercise authority over one who does not want to submit, to discipline in love – and we also do not come naturally at obeying God. Joseph and Mary, in their servanthood and obedience, desperately needed God’s wisdom and guidance to raise His Son who had put on flesh and dwelt among them. It is precisely the same with us.
This Christmas, let’s remember that to welcome Jesus – to come adore and behold him – is to obey him. And one of the ways we can do that is to be like him, welcoming the little children, remembering he was once one of them.