A CHILD IS BORN
We come into the season when most of the world apparently celebrates the birth of a Child in Bethlehem more than 2000 years ago. This Child was the fulfilment of God’s promise to the first people who ever sinned, Adam and Eve (Gen.3:15), and later to His chosen people, the nation of Israel (Isa.9:6). He was born in obscurity, and very few people recognised who He really was. Nobody found it important enough to record this birth as a milestone in history. But yet He was born to be the Saviour of the whole world, not just Israel (Matt.1:21;1Jn.2:2). His very name, Jesus, stood for ‘God saves’, and this was what the angel Gabriel explained to Mary when he announced to her, “You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” This was God’s plan for saving people from the bondage of sin, not only by providing Jesus as our substitute who suffered the punishment for our sins so that we could now be forgiven, but Jesus also showed us how God can transform our lives to be increasingly free from the power of sin and to become more like Him.
This is also God’s only way for the salvation of people. Jesus Himself said so (Jn.14:6), and the apostles also reiterated it later when they started preaching this good news which God had given them (Acts 4:12). This is something which the people of this world vehemently oppose, because they want us to agree that all ways lead to God. But only the way that Jesus made leads us to God, and every other way actually leads us to some other god who is not really God at all.
In the celebration of this great event in history which was orchestrated by God Himself for our benefit, many of us forget Him, and Christmas becomes all about enjoying ourselves with new clothes, receiving and giving gifts, decorating homes and church buildings, partying, and other forms of merry making. The merchants of this world have found this to be one more opportunity for them to make money at the expense of their innocent victims, and it has become a booming time for Christmas-related sales. In order to rope in many more people than just Christians into this game, they have managed to morph ‘Christmas’ into ‘Xmas’ and now to ‘the holiday season’. There are many Christians who protest against this total misappropriation of the occasion, but they are also being suppressed by many in the church who speak for the ‘good times’ and the need not to offend public sentiment. After all, they say, we should be happy that because of this season at least some people are thinking about Jesus.
In what way has this ‘thinking about Jesus’ affected humanity? This season has been coming and going every year for hundreds of years, but the world seems to be only getting worse as time goes on. Perhaps our witness has not been powerful, distinct or clear enough?
For example, how has our singing “Unto us a Child is born” affected our attitude to the approximately 350000 other children who are being born into this world every day? About 125000 babies are being aborted every day and not even getting a chance to be born. Around 27% of victims of abuse are children, with 17% girls and 10% boys. About 5500 children are trafficked per day around the world. An unknown number of children are abandoned by parents who find themselves unable to take care of them financially or who find some medical fault with the children. Countries like India and China are notorious for killing female babies, sometimes even after they are born. There are, of course, many organisations that are trying to deal with each of these problems. Those of us who can strengthen their hands can do that. But shall we first of all examine our own attitude towards children, even when we call ourselves Christians and proclaim the coming of the Child?
“Behold, children are a gift of the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward” (Psa.127:3). Have the pressures of this life distorted this in our mind into the common thought that children are a burden to us parents? Many Christian parents too have bought into this idea, and when they consider all the practical ways in which children make demands on them and on the life-style which the parents desire, they decide not to have any children or to limit them to just one.
What is the impression we convey to our children by our lack of involvement with them, our busy life that leaves no time to make friends with them, and by our pursuit after becoming greater in this world or in the church? I hope our children do not think that we think we would have been happier without them!
When we do have children, is our focus on giving them good food, good clothes and good education, rather than on ‘training them up’ in the ways of the Lord? Unlike babies of animals which become independent of their parents very soon after birth, human children need around 20 years of careful nurturing to equip them to stand on their own feet and become useful to God and society. There is psychological development as well as spiritual development that children need to receive from the parents. Have we parents resorted to hoping that our schools and Sunday schools will take care of those needs of our children? Someone has said sardonically, “Children are natural mimics who act like their parents in spite of every attempt to teach them good manners!”
God tells us from His wisdom to train children when they are young (Prov.22:6). Many have made the mistake of thinking that they would start discussing with the children what they should do once they become older, and when the children are young they are left to themselves, their friends, TV, games, etc. And when the children have already become distant from their parents by the time they reach the teenage, the parents discover that there seems to be a gap between them that is very difficult to bridge. The children have, by then, already got ingrained into their brain how to think and behave, and the parents find it virtually impossible to mould them at this stage. Francis Xavier is believed to have said, “Give me the children until they are seven and anyone may have them afterwards.”
One of the expectations God had from Abraham when He called him was that Abraham would command his children to follow the ways of God (Gen.18:19). Is this not one of the things that God expects from Christian parents? If He wants us to be the salt and light of this world (Matt.5:13-16), is it not our responsibility to do our best so that our children after us will take over the baton from us and keep His witness going? May the Lord bring back this vision to us parents and may we learn to cry out to Him for wisdom and help.