And a Child Shall Lead Them

Yesterday at noon the Drury community gathered for its annual holiday luncheon.  As always, the meal was delicious and the conversation was fun.  But this year was special.  Angels visited our gathering.  About 70 second and third grade children from McGregor Elementary School came to give the winter holiday concert.  It was magnificent.  When the children arrived, the applause was thunderous.  When they finished, the standing ovation would not stop.

The children giggled.  Several kids put fingers in their ears because the applause was so loud.  Some were brave beyond belief and gave mini-solos as a part of the show.  All were perfect pitch as far as we were concerned. Indeed, no one could resist their innocence, excitement, or joy. They put us into the holiday spirit like no prior year.  (Kudos to the folks in the education department and the library who were originally chosen to do all of the entertainment.  To throw us off guard, they initiated their “concert” with such off-key singing that we were all wondering if we were going to survive.  It was a set-up, of course, and we fell for it until the children arrived to deliver the real concert.)

This Christmas I pray that you will be as surprised  as we were when the children entered our holiday luncheon.  As adults, we can be a cynical bunch.  We have been around.  We know what’s up.  We don’t trust the season because we know that life is not always joy-filled and happy.  That is why we need Christmas concerts by small children.  In particular, I hope that you will be blessed this season with childlike innocence, joy, and trust.

Innocence: While it might be hard to return to that time when you awaited Santa Claus with images of sugar plums dancing in your head, questioning what you “know” can be valuable.  We know that the powerful rule over the weak; the strong survive; there’s never enough for everybody. Yet it may change our lives to question that knowledge.  As Leah Hamilton read from Isaiah 11 at our Christmas Vespers on the first Sunday of December, there is another way.  “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.”  May you become so “naive” and “innocent” this Christmas to join children in believing that peace on earth is possible.

Joy: Young children are spontaneously joyful and open to experience.  When small children are asked whether they can dance or sing, they say “yes.”  Of course.  They have not yet learned that they can only do some things well.  Their minds are not so full of worry.  They enjoy the present and are amazed by the world with all of its novelty.  May we choose that way of being – living fully in the present without guilt about the past or anxiety about the future.  May we taste of joy this year by loving and being loved.  There is nothing more important.

Trust: Finally, may we trust.  For six years, since the Great Recession began in 2008, we have received a barrage of bad news.  The economy was hit badly and still has only partially recovered.  Liberal arts colleges have experienced some enrollment declines.  Even Drury has experienced a time of belt-tightening.  In the face of such challenges, some of us are tempted to allow our lives to be dominated by anxiety, worry, and fear.  That is a mistake.

Children certainly can be afraid.  But they also have a marvelous capacity for trusting – trusting their parents, trusting their teachers, trusting their world.  May we learn from that.  We sometimes think that trust is about others.  Are they safe or reliable?  Will they help or hurt me?  But I think trust is really about us.  In what do we most believe?  What really matters for our lives?  When we place our trust in deeper values such as love, compassion, justice, generosity and community, we allow ourselves to breathe.  Worry becomes less consuming.  Hope grows.  Nothing can take those values away from us no matter how cold the winds.

This Christmas may you hear your own group of “angels.”  May you be innocent enough to believe in peace for yourselves, your families, and the world.  May you find yourself breaking out in joy by living in the presence of God who came in the form of a child.  May you trust in the gift of hope and the beauty of life together no matter the challenges.

And, like the beloved members of the education department and Olin library, may you sing off-key, knowing that your singing is more important than the perfection of your performance.  Merry Christmas to you and yours!

Peter Browning


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