Andy Hawes is Warden of Edenham Regional Retreat House
‘Christmas is for children’ is the chorus we will no doubt hear in the coming weeks. It is definitely true that the presence of children keeps alive the wonder and the mystery of the festival. They also have a lot of fun! Christmas ought to be a time when adults give themselves permission to play in the presence of God. Some liturgical scholars have argued that all our grown-up worship with all its dressing up and props is ‘glorious play.’ It is certainly the case that we often take it all far too seriously.
There is nothing wrong with faith being a ‘fun thing.’ We might ponder the saying of Jesus: ‘Unless you become like this little child you cannot enter the kingdom of God.’ Childlikeness is characterized by openness, trust and vulnerability, and the effect of these traits is excitement in all that is new and a capacity to engage with the moment in joy and expectation.
The more world-weary reader may find all this a bit hard to take; for this I apologize, but it does not diminish the call to each of us to be ‘joyful and triumphant.’ A good use of the remainder of Advent might be prayerfully to write
down a list of ‘blessings’, causes to be thankful to God; and then take up ‘the duty and the joy’ to be thankful.
A more difficult task is to look again at the hard rocks and dry ground of your interior landscape and ask the Lord to strike them open that they may be renewed in joyful hope. It was said of Francis of Assisi that he was the ‘most penitent and the most joyful of men’; the point of penitence is that we should come to know more deeply the love we receive in Christ. It may be helpful this Advent to think of the preparation and act of confession as the forerunner to a new experience of childlike joy in Christ.
Appropriate passages to read, as an aid in this ‘renewal of joy’, would be the letter to the Ephesians chapters 1 and 2, and also Philippians chapter 4. But above all, in this season we have the carols. In them there is an unparalleled collusion of words and music that open up the mind and imagination to the truths of love, human and divine. Many of the carols are wonderful prayers and aids to a simple, heartfelt devotion to Jesus.
It may be that some readers would rather forget their childhood, and there may be some who have no experience of children and no desire to gain any! This does not exempt you from a simple fact: you are a child of God who has revealed himself as Father.
There will be very few readers who have no contact whatsoever with children or perhaps godchildren. Make a special point to pray for them, to spend time with them, and to learn from them; particularly any lessons they offer about enjoying the moment and their capacity to receive: remember the Christmas Gospel, ‘to those who receive him he gives power to become children of God.’