"Children of Peace"
A homily by Andrew Philip Long
The First Presbyterian Church of Enid, OK
December 20, 2015: Advent 4 and Children's Program
Whitney Houston famously sang in her hit The Greatest Love of All, “I believe that children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way. Show them all the beauty they possess inside, give them a sense of pride to make it easier. Let the children’s laughter remind us how we used to be.” That is what we’ve all been told from the beginning, right? That children are the future? Well, with all due respect to Whitney Houston and conventional wisdom, if today is any indication, children aren’t just the future—they are today! I am beyond proud and honored to share leadership of this service with our children and young people.
Aside from the usual cuteness that is every Christmas program—and there is a lot of cuteness here today—something profound is going on here. The Westminster Confession of Faith reminds us that the chief and highest aspiration of all people of faith is to worship God and enjoy God forever. By acting out the scene of Jesus’ birth, and by helping us to learn the stories behind our most loved Christmas carols, our young people are worshipping God and enjoying God…and they are helping us to do the same. Their excitement and joy is infectious, spilling over onto the rest of us, us older folks who tend to get a little leaner, a little colder, a little sadder, a little older this time of year. The bright-eyed wonder with which they have approached this program and the timeless story of our Savior’s birth has helped me, at least, to shake off the dust that accumulates from hearing the Christmas story year after year.
And, most profoundly of all, they have shown us the very face of God and the One who will be our peace.
Children are important to God; they were certainly important to Jesus. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says to the crowds, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” Matthew says that when Jesus finished talking, he laid his hands on the children, then went on his way. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus says that it would be better for us to be thrown into the sea with a large stone tied around our necks than to stop a child from coming to him. Children were important to Jesus. They were important to him because of their unblemished, un-jaded faith. They were important to him because of their unconditional love and endless forgiveness. They were important to him because he, too, was once a child who knew about the joys and struggles of growing up in the world. They were important to him because they are the inheritors of the kingdom of God, the very girls and boys who will grow up and carry on the legacy of faith.
I have to admit that I am a big-picture sort of thinker, and this is a strength and a weakness. It is a strength because leaders must be able to envision a goal and the best, most productive ways to get there. It is a weakness because I sometimes fall into despair over the state of the world and how our deepest problems seem totally unsolvable. I fall into despair when I consider that today our children and young people are safe, yet there are parents and families all across the world who cannot claim the same for their children. I fall into despair when I consider how violence has become the norm and not the extreme exception. I fall into despair when I consider how people are leaving the faith, and how churches all over are closing their doors. When I look at the big picture, it is hard to have hope; if God is so very good, why is life so very difficult? Will the complexities of life ever ease? Can the paradoxes of modern living ever be resolved?
But then we have something like today happen, and hope flows back in. Children and young people are so important for us—and this is probably why they were so important to Jesus—they are so important for us because they remind us that faith is not about solving the big problems, but about planting small seeds and leaving the growth to God. These young people give me hope, give us hope, because they get that God is this big, powerful God who shows power in humility. These young people give us hope, because they get that God is love, unconditional and pure love. Period. These young people give us hope because they know that weapons are not the answer, war is not the answer, violence is not the answer. These young people give us hope today and for the days to come because even if only one of them choses the way of peace, the way of love, the way of forgiveness and mercy, the world will be a little more how God intends.
The prophet Micah speaks of this when he says, “But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origins are of old, from ancient days.” Micah tells the truth that God does not break into the world in some grand, majestic gesture, but in the smallest way, through the smallest clan of Judah, in the smallest human form of all…a child. Micah goes on to say, “And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord…and they shall live secure…and he shall be the one of peace.” This child, this small blip on the radar or history, will radically change the world, not in big things, but in small things done with great love. Jesus didn’t change the world with armies or vast amounts of wealth or lots of political power: he changed the world by being the One of peace.
And in our children and youth today, we see the face of God and we see this One who is our peace. In our children and youth today, small seeds are being planted in all of us, and God will see to it that they grow well.
We would all do well to look at them, deeply and thoughtfully, and take from them the example of how to live the faith we profess. We would all do well to give up our worn and weary faith, the skepticism and unbelief, and take up their joyful, excited faith. We would all do well to love as they do, to forgive as they do, to think about and serve God as they do. We would all do well to become just like them, because it is in becoming like children that we inherit the kingdom of God. When we take their example, we will become children of peace, and the wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert will rejoice and blossom. Then, the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; we will beat our swords into ploughs, and our spears into pruning hooks. And nation will not life up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. May it be so now, and for all time. Amen.