On December 8th, we had our annual Christmas field trip! Each Care Fresno site was able to bring 5 kids for a time of games at the park followed by a walk through Candy Cane Lane to look at Christmas lights. We had a lot of fun together and as those from my site walked around the neighborhood, we made a game out of counting how many Baby Jesus figures we could find.
The previous week at Bible study, we talked about the Christmas story. Before getting to the story time, kids colored coloring pages of various scenes of the Christmas story. Some of the kids had no idea what the pictures were about and asked me to explain them, which turned into a special story time before Bible study officially started.
As we looked at the Nativity scene coloring page, I explained to one of the 7 year old boys that Jesus was born in something like a barn. There wasn’t a hospital for his mom to go to and his family couldn’t stay in a hotel. His immediate response was, “That’s messed up!” I was initially a bit shocked; the birth of Jesus is held up as this holy, beautiful moment, but he was right: it was a messed up scene with none of the amenities that one would expect for anyone, let alone God! This boy then went on to verbally process, “Jesus was a kid and before that he was one year old and before that he was zero and before that he was in his mommy’s tummy and had to come out.” It’s an experience that is true for any human and this boy was baffled, both that God became a baby and that God was born under such messed up circumstances.
During Bible study, another kid asked if the box had been cleaned before Jesus was put in it. Sometimes the Christmas story becomes very sanitized, with Jesus sleeping peacefully and Mary and Joseph sometimes calmly wearing a halo, but for the kids at my site who are familiar with farms, agriculture, and animals, they envisioned a different scene that was far less than serene and probably closer to what actually happened.
As I shared the Christmas story with the kids, the boy who declared how messed up the situation was flipped through the pictures of the story we use as visual aids as we tell the story. He pointed at different people in the pictures, asking over and over again, “Is this God?” He recognized that God had come to earth and was now a visible part of the story, but He wasn’t sure where God was. God wasn’t the angel over the shepherds, a rich man with a fancy gift, or even the father hovering over the baby, just like when God revealed Himself to the prophet Elijah, He wasn’t in the wind, earthquake, or fire. God appeared to Elijah in a gentle whisper, and then many years later, God came to earth not as a rich or powerful individual, but as a vulnerable newborn in a dirty feeding trough.
An eight year old girl whose birthday is December 23 asked, “How come Jesus got to be born on a holiday but we don’t?” It took her a while to realize that the point of Christmas is to celebrate the birth of Jesus, rather than see Jesus as an addition to the ongoing holiday celebration, something that is an ongoing struggle I face as well. She is on the same wavelength as my mentee, Alexa, who after seeing a movie that I considered a Christmas movie, confidently declared, “It wasn’t a movie about Christmas, it was a movie about Jesus’ birth!” While it is easy and common to miss Christ in the midst of the Christmas season, it’s interesting for me to see how my kids who are not from churched homes view Christ’s birth as important yet separate from secular Christmas festivities.
As I share the Christmas story with the kids in my after school program and have the privilege of telling some of them the true meaning of Christmas, not only am I reminded of what it’s like to have faith like a child, but I am reminded of the strange aspects of the Bible stories to which I have become accustomed. Their comments when they hear Bible stories for the first time cause me to view these stories from a different, fresh perspective as well. The awe my kids felt upon hearing the Christmas story is the awe I want to have every time I see a Nativity Scene. It’s incredible that God loved us enough to do messed up things, to be the least likely character in the picture, so that we could know and love the God of the universe who became Emmanuel, God with us, Jesus, God Saves.