Christmas, in the eyes of a child, is totally serious. That’s exactly why Christmas is an invitation to have fun.

The serious part first. The only reason Christmas exists is because God chose to send his Son, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, to become incarnate — vulnerable and plaything of history. By any standard of reason and sobriety, this is a bad joke, perilous and profligate. Even to suggest the possibility seems blasphemous against a sovereign being who does not do things like this.

But God did just this absurd and kenotic thing, relinquishing the appearance of his divine attributes to assume the condition of a child. Why? Because he loves us!

Let’s take the comedy a step further in our reflection. This playful, extravagant God decides to be present to us fully in human flesh so that we can jostle with him in life’s highways and byways, with no need to ascend some misty mountaintop or smoke a mind-altering substance. God comes to meet us where we are at. Hard to believe, and there is no doubt that this struck both wonder and joy in the hearts of those who first witnessed it, from shepherds to sages. The shock still breaks spells of doom and shatters dull routines. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; Upon those who lived in a land of gloom a light has shone” (Is. 9:1).

To Herod and the “powers” of this world, his successors throughout the centuries, this child spells terror. Then as now, the figure of the infant both human and divine provokes panic in the hearts of all who thrive on controlling and dominating the minds and hearts of others — something this child does not do to those who embrace his presence as liberation from slavery to any fear, tyrant, malady, even death itself!

Wherever this Gospel of God Incarnate is proclaimed and received, it dispels the darkness and brings light and hope. The fun part is that this frees those who believe from the fear of being their true selves, free from all the world’s bogeymen, innocent and playful as the innocent marvels of God’s creation whose playfulness we wonder at and delight in.

At Christmas, we are invited to open our eyes to the world as children see it — and, no doubt, much as God himself does, for God is the simplest of all. It is a world that is, as poet e. e. cummings poses it, “mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful,” where joy can be found, playing, romping in a mess.
It is also said that play is the work children do. I’m going out on a limb here. A Christmas tree branch, with balls and tinsel and bubble lights. The wonder of Christmas is not in the planning but the surprise, not the brown smiley on the Amazon warehouse box, but the unrehearsed glitter of a child’s smile or the uninhibited tug of a dog who wants to frolic.

You never know what will happen when you play with a child, or your pet. Children and pets share an innocence and spontaneity that take us out of our routines and the (non)sense of order, bringing us to our knees and seducing us to crawl on the floor. Yes, at the age some of us may be at, that raises questions about how easily one can get up again. But is the real risk one of a bodily tumble or something much more spiritually challenging and, therefore, enriching — a “falling” for the Christmas message that is not just for children, but for the child in each and every one of us, back to an innocence the possibility of which we have perhaps lost hope in. Isn’t the true joy of living palpable in the fun we have with our children and grandchildren, even our dogs and cats, as Christmas dawns on us?

Recently, two good friends of mine — in different states of life, mind and status — each acquired a dog. I cannot tell you how much joy I derive as they text me about the fun their new canine friends are bringing them. Their wonder at the mystery of these selfless creatures, who seem interested in nothing more than making my friends happy, gives me great joy. I sense they are witnessing anew the “dogginess” of God, or that essential aspect of divine personality that revels in having fun with his creatures and, through them, with us.

It all says to me that God loves fun. And if we can open our hearts wide to the fun our children — even our pets — make of this season, in the midst of all our “adult” fears, worries and concerns, why resist it? If it helps us forget our woes, or at least admit there is much more to living than the things we plan and worry about, then maybe the true magic of Christmas will come to us. This, after all, is the heart of our Christian faith: it is God who comes to us.

Nothing wrong then with turning Christmas into fun — or letting it give us permission to have fun. Yes, the world is full of evils and tricks and terrors. Yes, there are bad people with terrible schemes and plans. An honest reading of the infant narratives reveals that the child Jesus and his parents were constantly surrounded by perils of annihilation, which their very goodness and innocence seems to have provoked.

To this we Christians respond, not with clever retorts or counter attacks or legal briefs, but with lives lived with joy and virtue. Sinners though we are, and often falling short of our ideals, we confess our sins and we revel in our God of mercy, ready to forgive as we forgive and are forgiven.
We embrace every new day with hope and joy, unafraid of the threats or curses the Herods and other tyrants of this world hurl at us. And at Christmas, especially at Christmas, we remember our original innocence, restored at Baptism, reset in every moment we confess, which frees us to enjoy Christmas through the eyes of children.

May our incarnate Savior visit you personally and free your heart to enjoy the blessing of being called by name, your nickname or pet name even. May he free you to embrace him and enjoy the tickle of his warm hands, as you would on the floor of your living room with your dog, child or grandchild, forgetting your ancient knees or aching back for the moment, weighted by all the cares of the world heaped upon your shoulders. In the comforting words of the song, “He’s got the whole wide world in his hands ...” — yes, that includes us, your world and mine — let’s have fun as his beloved children. Mercy Christmas!

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