As Christmas approaches one can often begin to feel like a child, full of excitement and anticipation at both the mystery of what is to be celebrated and the festivities that make up the celebration. This should not surprise us as Christmas itself centers around a child. What should give us a surprise is that we often only have these feelings at Christmas.
Christ was clear in the Gospels when He said, “Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 13:8). However as adults we have a tendency to read this with what we want children to be like. Ideas like “children believe unconditionally and so should we” or “children always obey their parents so we should obey our heavenly father” have often been read into this. Yet such ideas are blatantly false. When children ask question after question we may wish they would unconditionally believe, or when we are on a bus with a child who will not stop screaming no matter how often the mother requests it we wish they would only obey, but at least a fair amount of the time they do not.
What then does it mean to be like a child? As we are now well into the winter season I recently re-read Anderson’s The Snow Queen. In the story a young boy has specks of a broken magic mirror enter his heart and eye which cause him to see only the bad side of things and turn his heart into a lump of ice. This change imposed on the boy takes him out of his childhood wonder and enjoyment of the world and moves him into a rationalist unimaginative worldview. This is seen in passages such as, “Now his games were very different from what they used to be. They became more sensible,” and, “He tried to say his prayers, but all he could remember was his multiplication tables.” The child goes from enjoying flowers because of the life in them to enjoying snowflakes because of the cold symmetry of them.
It is in the end a young girl who saves the boy from his imprisonment of the cold rationalism that he has become entrapped in. She does it like any child would, by setting out on this goal without understanding at all what kind of adventures it would lead to, relying on the help of strangers, an inescapable optimism about her task, and wonder at the world. In these things Anderson gets far nearer to what Christ means in the gospel then some of the modern ideas we impose on the text.
At the end of the story, after the boy is saved and everyone is back home safely Anderson’s penultimate line reads, “And they sat there, grown-up, but children still-children at heart.” What a wonderful way to explain the Christian life: what we go through in our life should cause us to grow up in knowledge and understanding, but we must never, if we wish to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, lose our childlikeness. If we have, there is no better time then our approach to Christmas to regain it.