Children signal the true state of reality. Healthy, happy children reveal civil arrangements that provide services to those who have no choice in the matter; starving, abandoned children give evidence that the ecology of economics, politics and environment is deserting those most vulnerable to the decisions of others.

The faces of children populate the ads of shrewd marketing campaigns – whether to encourage capitalism or sound the alarm of failing systems.

It is as a child that God reveals the world’s true longing. We long for the basic necessities of life, true; however, we long for so much more. Sadly, much of the world’s population does not have the luxury of longing for more.

The child is a sign of what matters most to humanity: a sense of inclusion, peaceful relations with others, justice for all and burgeoning hope for the world to be put to right. When Isaiah speaks of the young woman who will bear the child, Immanuel, he tells forth God’s intention to redeem – as well as to judge – those called to live into God’s future (Isaiah 7:10-16). The source of redemption is unlikely – a child who will know “how to refuse the evil and choose the good” (Isaiah 7:15b).

When I was a graduate student in Cambridge, I had the privilege of regularly attending evensong at King’s College during Advent. The lilting voices of the renowned boys’ choir invited the congregation to remember that Christ

…was little, weak and helpless,

Tears and smiles like us He knew;

And He feels for all our sadness,

And he shares in all our gladness.

Not only did God identify as our “childhood’s pattern,” as the hymn “Once in Royal David’s City” put it, but the sign of the child breaks down the walls of division.

Beyond the choir stalls at the far end of the chapel hangs the lovely Rubens’ painting, “The Adoration of the Magi.” There, kneeling before the infant, are the “kings.”

Rather than being portrayed as three Persians, they represent the three known parts of the world: Africa, Asia and Europe. The symbolism is striking; it is the child that brings the world’s people together.

As we welcome the child anew, may we also acknowledge him as God’s sign for the world, a sign of hope for all.

Molly T. Marshall is president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Shawnee, Kan. She blogs at Trinitarian Soundings.

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