How do we explain to children that Christmas signifies God drawing near to His people? By example is a great place to start. Young children in particular don’t work so well with ideas in abstract form. They take things very literally. Much better to show them from things they already know. Get down on the carpet and play with them! Perhaps that’s “not your style,” but that makes the lesson even more profound. When a grown-up stoops down to get on the floor with a toddler, it’s a wonderful demonstration of what God did in Christ. He didn’t think Himself too important or too big or too special. Philippians 2:4-7 reminds us that Christ didn’t consider His own prestige something to be clung on to, but came in humility down to our level. Children notice the action more than the words, and the memory of daddy or granddad or uncle Joe getting into their world gives them a handy mental reference hook to hang the idea from; the idea that God came down to be with us.
Now God didn’t simply show up. Since the Fall of Man God’s unfiltered glory has always been more than any man or woman could endure. So He entered into our environment as a man – veiled in flesh – as the carol describes it – Incarnation – is the theologian’s term. Both these expressions are mere gobbledegook to a toddler (and some of their parents too!). How can we take gobbledegook and give it sense? Another approach to help the little ones get a grasp of the real truths of Christmas is by inviting them to use their imaginations. I don’t know if you remember that great movie from 1963, The Sword in the Stone. It was the last Disney film produced while Walt was alive. It had some amazing scenes where king-to-be Arthur (known as Wart to his contemporaries) was turned by his mentor Merlin into a fish, a squirrel, and a sparrow. The young Arthur needed to learn certain things, and the best way to learn was to become the object of the lesson. Ask your children to go on a trip of imagination with you. If they have pets they love, ask them if they have ever wondered what it’s like to be one of them. But to really understand what it would be like to live as a hamster or a goldfish, wouldn’t they need to become one? In a similar way, but on a much bigger scale, God loves us enough to find out what it’s like to be one of us. How would God know what it really felt like to fall off a bike and skin a knee? How would He know what it feels like to be hungry? How would He understand the pressure to “tell a little fib” to stay out of trouble? God became a person to find out what being human is all about – and the person He became is called Jesus. He faced all the troubles we face every day, and He made the right decision every time.
Don’t assume that children will put the pieces together for themselves that the Christ in Christmas is talking about Jesus the baby in the manger. The name Jesus means that God Rescues. The name Christ means, put simply for children – chosen to do a special job. So the baby Jesus was called Christ because He was sent by God to do a special job; and His name – Jesus – tells us what that job is. He came to rescue us because we were in trouble with God. Because He was from God He could explain the trouble we were in, and because He was a person like us, He could not only understand, but He could make it right for us.