While a lot people are getting amped for the return of Han Solo this week, I’m getting the sense the Force is much stronger with another famous Han, Hans Urs Von Balthasar to be exact. He was one of the leading theological minds of our time, and this week I dusted off a beautiful little book of his to help me in my Advent reflection and prepare for Christmas.
The book is titled “Unless You Become Like This Child,” and I remembered the book as I was sitting and reflecting on the baby Jesus, and preparing my heart for welcoming him into my life in a deeper way.
I’ve always been so amazed with the way God chose to come into the world as a helpless, fragile and soft little baby in the humblest of settings. The way God does things reveals so much about who he is, and in turn who we are, created in His image. I was cheering along with the crowed in Philadelphia when Pope Francis gave his emphatic speech on the Benjamin Parkway this September. There, Pope Francis drew attention to the way God came into the world when he said, “And where did He send his son – to a palace? To a city? No. He sent him to a family. God sent him amid a family!” In this way we see how central the family is for God to enter into the world, even today. The family is a pathway for heaven.
In the season of Advent, we recall awaiting heaven to come near to us in the Person of Christ. It’s so beautiful to think of how far God will go to give us heaven. Its no surprise then that Christ modeled for us what it will take for us to inherit the kingdom of heaven, by first being like a little child. In fact, we know that not only did God become man first as a child, but that he considered himself always as a child- As the Son of God. As Balthasar would put it, “This mystery of Christ as a child is a profound mystery rooted in the very being of Christ, whose identity is inseparable from his being a child in the bosom of the Father.”
Scripture and our own experience as adults show us that the concept of being childlike is easier said than done, and something that even his most devout followers struggled to understand and live. Recall Matthew 19:14 when the disciples rebuked the children and Jesus used it as a teaching moment by putting a child smack in the middle of them saying, “[…] the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Or, in Mark 10:15 when he goes even further and says, ““Amen I say to you: Whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter into it.” Honestly, who among us couldn’t relate to the teacher Nicodemus in John 3: 1-16 when he all but says, “How could I possibly be the child I once was when I am long grown and beyond those years?” You could almost hear Jesus’ face palm when Jesus says,” You are the teacher of Israel and you do not understand this?
What can we make of things when St. Paul says,” Brothers, do not be childish in your outlook. Be as innocent of evil as babes but become adults in your thinking”(1 Cor 14:20). Is it possible that the call distinguishes between childlike and childish? Upon further reflection we can see that the law between good and evil must live within a childlike heart. Like most fundamental parts of our identity, the most beautiful thing about this is that we cannot attain this without the help of God. In fact, scripture tells us that this can only occur if God deposits his own Spirit within our heart. “I will put my Spirit within you, a Spirit which does not make us childish but can gather up in our heart and utter forth the cry of “Abba, Father!” (Ez 36:27).
This Christmas, I’ll do what God always waits for me to do in every moment, and I’ll ask for my heart to be made more childlike. This Christmas I will welcome the child of Christ who awakens the child within my heart.