The future sat beside me at the annual Christmas banquet of a community organization. Five fingers old, big eyes, bubbly and adorable. With her mother busy on her left, and the Preacher watching activities on my right, I engaged her in conversation. She’d already visited Santa and Mrs. Claus, perched on the stage up front telling their usual fibs. Like most pre-schoolers, she’d quickly moved on.
When I told her I had granddaughters near her age, she giggled and pointed to my cell phone. “Show me!” I happen to have a few (!) pictures, so I opened the album and found them for her.
She grabbed the phone and proceeded to flip through all my photos, stopping at one. “Hey! There’s your dad!” She pointed to the Preacher on my other side. (Perhaps I should stop coloring my hair?)
After I managed to extract the device, she fingered the pin on my shoulder – a small gold nativity scene a friend gave me years ago. “That’s pretty!” she exclaimed.
“What is it? Do you know?”
She grinned. “A badge!”
I laughed. “It’s a picture of the true story of Christmas! See this little barn? See the baby and his parents? That’s Jesus. He was God’s son, he was born in a barn and he came to save the world. Remember that story?”
“How about Away in a Manger? Do you know that Christmas Carol?”
“What’s a Christmas carol?”
“It’s a song we sing just at Christmas.” I sang a verse, softly. She proclaimed it nice. As I explained the Nativity story in its most basic terms, her eyes fixed on mine. When I reached the part about angels appearing in the night sky, singing “Glory to God in the Highest!” to shepherds she stopped me. Put her face a little nearer mine. “Is it true?” she whispered. “Angels in the sky? A big star? For real?”
“Oh, Honey, yes. It’s all true. God loved the world and sent Jesus to rescue us. His other name is Christ. Jesus Christ. That’s where the word Christ-mas comes from!”
She sat back, looking puzzled and sad. Then she shook her head. Her next words broke my heart. “I never KNEW!”
Like most children of my generation, I grew up attending Sunday School, church, youth group and church camp. There I learned to love the Bible, with its marvellous stories and foundational truths of morality, history, philosophy, science and literature. My parents, even my public school, reinforced those truths. I loved best the person and story of Jesus Christ, on whom Christianity rests. My relationship with Christ and my Christian beliefs have shaped who I am, what I do, and what I offer to the world for which he gave his life.
Five fingers old, she was. Bubbly, adorable – and utterly Biblically illiterate.
As I said, I sat beside the future recently. And while I still could, I told the Truth.
“How will they know, unless someone tells them?” Romans 10:14, paraphrased