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The other evening, in the few quiet minutes before bedtime, I had my older daughter sitting on my lap as I read to her. She brought me a Bible storybook, so that’s what we read. I pointed to a picture of Jesus and the little children, and I told her, “Jesus loves the little children.” Then a pang struck through me as I realized, He does, because we grownups don’t.

The world views children as an imposition, while still paying lip service to their value and preciousness. Children get in the way of spending our free time and our money on ourselves and our pleasures, the world has pretty much decided, which as much as anything is behind the decline of children being born today. If these little people will suck up all my discretionary income and my ME time, why bother with them? My life is complete as it is, a lot of people reason. For those children unfortunate enough to actually be born to parents with that mindset, the message comes through loud and clear –whether the parents realize it or not.

Of course some of us do love children. We love our own, and some of us even love children as a group — the idea of children and childhood in the abstract, as it shows up in the little people that wander across our path every day. But even that love — even for your own children — has limits. Even the most loving and patient Christian parent will still have days where they want to scream or tear their hair out. Little kids can push our buttons and aggravate us in world-class fashion at times. They drive us right to the edge of our patience, park the car, turn off the engine, then sit back in their car seats and let us take a good long look into the abyss. Sometimes they push us right over the edge — or we hurl ourselves over, into the depths of rage.

Often if we do not view them kindly or with our rose-colored Hallmark-issue glasses on, it’s because children (our children) show us the truth about ourselves. They show us how little love or maturity actually reside behind the façade of the caring, compassionate, reasonable adult we prefer to present to the world. And we can despise them for forcing us to see that in ourselves. This is the dark side of parenting that seldom, if ever, gets talked about. Martin Luther quite correctly named family life and raising children as one of the best and most God-pleasing ways to mortify the flesh, to crucify the old Adam inside us, for precisely that reason. Little children take and take and take, and sometimes we don’t want to give.

That’s why the Son of God became a little baby, for you and for me. To atone for our lack of love for those who need it the most. So that our lovelessness would not cut us off forever from the everlasting love of God in His presence, He who is Love became a little child, as was prophesied. The Virgin’s baby Boy became the Son of Man who shouldered the world’s lovelessness and dissolved it in His holy, precious blood on the cross. Because of Him we are the children of God. We don’t always love our children like we should, so Jesus did in our place. And that enables us to love them better every day, to repent of our selfishness and place our whole selves at the beck and call of those little souls so dear to Him. It’s a good thing Jesus loves the little children, because we don’t always. But He does, to eternity, and He loves us too. (Amen.)