“I have to go get my guys!” my two-year old daughter, Hope, told me as I began reading the Christmas story to her during our morning devotion. A few minutes later she returned with her Fisher Price nativity set and proceeded to act out the Christmas story using “her guys” – the people from that nativity set.
We have several nativities in our house – a cute one I got at a craft fair years ago, a Willow nativity set, and a beautiful hand carved one from our most recent trip to Rwanda. They’re beautiful and significant to me… But they’re not things I want Hope playing with. So, last year, I suggested to Grandma and Papa that they might consider getting Hope a child-friendly nativity set.
I’m so glad they did.
This child-friendly nativity set makes Jesus accessible to Hope.
That’s important. As a youth pastor and parent, I don’t want Hope’s first memories of Jesus being someone telling her “Don’t touch that.”
Instead, I want her to pick baby Jesus up and play with him. I want her to put Mary on the donkey and tell – in her two-year old language – that part of the story. I want her to move the shepherds around.
One of the many things I’ve learned from having Hope in Montessori preschool this year is that children learn through play. Since I believe this, I want Hope to learn about math, science, and reading as she plays.
But I also want her to learn about faith.
Right now, the message I most want Hope to know about Jesus is that he’s human. Eventually, we’ll teach her that Jesus is also God but right now, she’s too young for that. I mean, there’s nothing about God that is concrete enough for a two-year old to grasp…
So, this advent and Christmas, we’ll play with Hope’s nativity set. We’ll touch the baby Jesus. We’ll rearrange Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and the wise men. We’ll read Hope the story of Christmas. And we’ll listen to her tell us that story using “her guys”.
We’ll do so knowing that as we play with Hope’s nativity, her faith is being formed. We’re weaving the Christmas story into her DNA by showing her that Jesus is a real person who can be touched, dropped, and played with; who was a baby just like her.
In doing so, we’re teaching Hope how at Christmas, we celebrate how Jesus is like us – fully human. Later, we’ll teach Hope that Jesus is also unlike us - He’s God incarnate. He’s both / and: fully God and fully human. We’ll get to that eventually.
But for now, we’ll relish playing with Jesus.
We’ll rejoice in the fact that our God is one who is accessible to us.
And we’ll continue to think of all the ways we can teach Hope that fact so that as she grows, Jesus always remains accessible to her.