“Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:14)
. . . and a little child shall lead them. (Isaiah 11:6)
Merry Christmas! Today is the 10th Day of Christmas, as we continue to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Creator as a little human child. It is helpful when we think about the meaning of the Nativity to remember that our ancestors generally did not fully share our sentimentality towards children. Our God, however, never fails to defy our expectations, and the quotes above, from Our Lord Himself and from the prophet Isaiah, would indeed have been startling to previous generations.
All the same, throughout the Old Testament we see that God has a way of working in the world through small and apparently innocuous instruments (which I explore in more depth in my post from the 4th Sunday of Advent): through Joseph, a young boy sold into slavery (Genesis 37:18-36), or David, who was so young and unimpressive that his father Jesse left him in the fields when the prophet Samuel came to choose a new king from among Jesse’s sons (1 Samuel 16). When God shows Himself to the prophet Elijah, he comes in the form of a tiny whisper (1 Kings: 11-13).
The quote from Isaiah, “and a little child shall lead them,” could be taken in a figurative sense, of course, but it’s always wise to take into account the literal meaning of prophetic utterances. Likewise in Matthew’s Gospel, shortly before Jesus orders his disciples to let the little children come to him, we find this passage :
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them, and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:1-4)
So, we need to become like children ourselves – but how is that supposed to work?
Happily, we see an example in one of today’s saints, St. Genevieve. Attracted by the sanctity of the man who is today known as St. Germanus, Genevieve became a consecrated virgin at only seven years old. She lived to an impressive old age of 89 years, through which her faith was tried in many different ways, but she never lost her child-like trust in her Lord. Her steadfast faith earned the respect of the pagan Frankish king Childeric, and turned aside the ravaging horde of Attila the Hun from Paris (for which reason she is Patroness of that city). Miracles attributed to her intercession have continued for more than a millennium and a half since her death.
While St. Genevieve’s faith was child-like, it did not remain childish: as she grew older, her understanding deepened, and she took on the role of a mature, responsible woman in matters such as the performance of charitable deeds and the supervision and instruction of other consecrated virgins (undertaken at the request of her mentor St. Germanus). As we saw above, she even knew how to deal with kings. What did not change was the absolute trust she had in Jesus Christ, from her first vow as a seven year old until her death more than eight decades later. From her teens when her piety and sanctity earned her scorn and persecution, through her later years when she serenely faced the menace of the Huns, she put herself unreservedly in the hands of God.
Such steadfast faith does not come to us easily. It doesn’t come at all, in fact, without the gift of God’s Grace. But who can we trust if we can’t trust the God who became a little child among us, and showed us how to say, even in the final extremity, “Into Your hands, Lord, I commend my Spirit” (Luke 23:46)? Just as little children have an unquestioning confidence that their parents will take care of them, we are called to follow the example of St. Genevieve in putting ourselves in the hands of God, the God who came to us as a little baby in a manger.
Music for Christmas
Our musical selection for the 10th Day of Christmas is Angels We Have Heard on High, as performed by the George Fox University Choir. The music for this beloved Christmas song is from the traditional French Carol Gloria. The words are a loose rendering made by English Catholic Bishop James Chadwick in 1862 of another French song, Les Anges dans nos campagnes.