Malachi 3:1-4, 23-24
In today’s Gospel reading, as we move closer to the celebration of Christmas, we hear the account of the birth of John the Baptist. John’s birth was almost as remarkable as the birth of Jesus, having been born from a couple who were thought to be too old to have a child, with the father, Zechariah, struck mute until the baby is named. As Luke tells us, "all these matters were discussed throughout the hill country of Judea. All who heard these things took them to heart, saying, ‘What, then, will this child be?’ For surely the hand of the Lord was with him."
Although most children are not born in the same kind of circumstances that John was, every birth is a remarkable event, and God is with every child. Unfortunately, we have seen too many instances around the world and even in our own places, when children have not been treated with the dignity that is theirs. We have seen the massacre of children in Pakistan, the kidnapping of school girls in Nigeria. We are becoming more and more aware of how children are exploited, here and elsewhere, and the shadow of child abuse still lingers in our church and in our society. I cannot pretend to understand how such things happen, but it is obvious that in so many cases, children are not seen as human beings but as things to be used or sacrificed.
On the other hand, many of us in the U.S. can probably cite instances where we’ve seen children run roughshod over their own parents. Perhaps they’ve been told how precious they are, and rightfully so, but maybe without any sense of gratitude. I can imagine that John the Baptist was told many times about the circumstances of his birth. I can imagine that he grew up knowing how special he was. But at the same time, he is humble enough, when the time comes, to point to Jesus as the Messiah, and actually say, "He must increase; I must decrease."
The proper perspective about children is to see them as they are: beloved by God. And what we need to continue to teach our children is gratitude to God. If we teach gratitude instead of selfishness; service instead of domination, perhaps we can help the coming generations to make peace and work for justice.
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P. is on staff at St. Paul of the Cross Retreat and Conference Center, Detroit, Michigan.