As we celebrate the birth of Christ year after year, our senses are often flooded with sights, songs, colors, and smells that can evoke a sense of reverence and gratitude.
Though it is implausible that Jesus was actually born on December 25, celebrating together at this time of year serves as a marker of the centrality of our faith and our relationship with God. In that way, it resembles the religious feasts of the Jews.
We know quite a bit from Scripture about the birth of Jesus. The gospel writers (except for John, who gives no attention to birth narratives), considered it essential to relay the dozens of fulfillments of messianic prophecy surrounding his conception and birth.
What we don’t know is what Jesus was like as a child. After his infancy, there is only one account of Jesus, at age twelve. He worried his parents by staying in Jerusalem after the feast to converse with the Jewish scholars in the temple. Luke records,
When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”But they did not understand what he was saying to them. Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. (Lk. 2:48-52).
This tells us that by the age of 12, Jesus was already an extraordinary person, with a lively mind, a strong grasp of Scripture and theology, and a commitment to be about his Father’s business.
I love to wonder at what occurred between infancy and his coming of age as a young Jewish man, and then the beginning of his ministry at age 30. What happened in these gaps where the gospel scribes are silent?
My husband and I have an altogether lovely and loveable granddaughter who just turned three years old. We can’t help noticing how she went from being thoroughly innocent (like her little sister still is) to behaving in ways that reveal she is a sinner like the rest of us. Like all toddlers, it seemed that one day she woke up and realized she possessed the power to be mean, selfish, stubborn, and manipulative.
She doesn’t always behave in these ways. I’m just saying she learned that she had the ability. Little Autumn doesn’t intend to make things more difficult for her parents or herself. It’s just baked into her humanity. For the rest of her life, she will have to learn how to channel her negative, fleshly impulses into socially acceptable behaviors if she wants to thrive and get along with others.
Because we have such a natural talent for sin, we all require a lot of civilizing if we are going to survive and make sense of our world. I don’t subscribe to all of Freud’s theories, but I think he got this part right. We require lots of supervision and care as children if we are to become healthy, responsible adults.
This can’t be true in the same way about Jesus. The Bible tells us so.
Jesus was surrounded by every sin of humanity, yet never sinned himself. He didn’t have “terrible two’s”. He wasn’t bratty toward his teachers. He couldn’t have been an entitled, rebellious, or disrespectful teenager. This wasn’t inside of him, so it wouldn’t have manifested on the outside.
I hope you don’t find these musings irreverent. I wouldn’t teach these thoughts of my own as gospel. But it increases my love for Jesus to allow myself to imagine other aspects of his beautiful, perfect personality where Scripture is silent. Maybe you’d like to join me.
I imagine Jesus as having an easy temperament as a small child. He probably ate and slept well. I’ll bet he was easy to comfort if he hurt himself, was quick to smile and laugh, loved to hear stories, and quickly responded to his elders’ instructions.
Jesus developed physically, psychologically, socially, and spiritually under the love of his family and his heavenly Father, without any of the human hindrances of sin. He was rigorously educated and yet retained complete innocence. He possessed perfect wisdom without inner battles with doubt about God’s love, or about the purpose of his life.
As I indulge in these imaginings, I also find a fuller appreciation for the value that Jesus placed on children and childlikeness. For Jesus, children were better models of God’s heart than adults because children have less time to be negatively impacted by the outside world.
Even though I don’t misbehave in the ways that my granddaughter does because I have been “civilized,” she still is closer than I to the innocence that God longs to restore for all of us. Eventually, if we don’t stay close to the flame of God’s love and grace, the world has a way of thoroughly ravaging and destroying our hearts. And that, unfortunately, happens to all of us to varying degrees as we grow up.
Jesus repeatedly celebrated the relative innocence of children and childlike faith when he observed it in grownups. When the religious leaders rejected his teaching, he looked to heaven and exclaimed, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to little children” (Matt. 11:25).
When those same leaders spewed contempt on the children who were praising him for “the wonderful things he did” (Mt. 21:15), Jesus reminded them that children possess an ability to praise God in their own wonderful way, quoting Psalm 8, “From the lips of children and infants, you, Lord, have called forth your praise” (v.16).
On several occasions, Jesus’s closest disciples, wanting to understand issues of power and hierarchy, asked him who would be the greatest in his coming kingdom. Each time, he pulled a child close to illustrate his answer.
He called a little child to him and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me (Matt. 18:2-5).
Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matt.19:13-14).
Jesus loved the company of children. He eagerly longed for them to come near so he could bless them. In a culture that didn’t highly value children, Jesus made time for them.
People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them.When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them (Mark 10:13-16).
Jesus also made himself available to heal sick children or cast out demons that had afflicted them. We see this in the stories of Jairus’s daughter (Mark 5:35-43), the daughter of the Syro-Phoenician woman (Mark 7:24-30), the boy with demon-induced seizures (Mark 9:20-26), and the son of a royal official (John 4:46-53).
We rightly celebrate the birth of Jesus and all of the wondrous, awe-inspiring events surrounding it. His coming and dying in our place was the only way we could be reconciled to our Creator. He came so that we would no longer have to fear death and what lies beyond it.
As we consider the magnitude of this truth, aren’t you grateful that he also taught us how to live? Even in the sparse details about his childhood, we can make some suppositions (as I have dared to do here) based on our knowledge of his sinlessness and uninterrupted communion with the Father.
We can assume that he was sinless as an infant, as a toddler, as a child, and as a teenager, before he was revealed in adulthood as the Savior of the world. This is hard for us to comprehend. We were children who learned to sin, and we remain in a battle with sin and doubt even as God is sanctifying us. Jesus, our High Priest, is able to help us. He bids us to approach his throne of grace like children.
To these things, the Scriptures do attest. Jesus loves the little children and all those with childlike hearts.
Oh, come let us adore him!