A set of double doors marked "17" on my Advent calendar opened to a charming image of a minister surrounded by children.
My first thought was of one of the most famous passages in the New Testament:
People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them (Mark 10:13-16).
This biblical story inspired a picture that hung in my childhood Sunday school room. I remember children all around Jesus-sitting on his lap, hanging over his shoulder, sitting at his feet-with him smiling and hugging them, obviously enjoying their company. As a child, the scene was warm and reassuring to me, an invitation from Jesus himself.
The same passage was also the subject for the major paper in my first college New Testament course. Sitting in the college library, surrounded by commentaries, I was surprised to discover that children were not considered cute or lovable in ancient society. Instead of being cherished and coddled in the ways we treat our children, our ancestors assigned children one of the lowest rungs on the social scale. Their worth was equal to that of women, dogs, and servants. They had no status, no rights, and were not understood to be fully human. Children were essentially the possessions of their parents to be used as those parents wished.
For the first time, I realized that Jesus did not welcome children because ancient people liked them. He welcomed them to make a political point-those who are least in this world will be first in the kingdom. God's reign embraces the outcast, the lowly, the unacceptable, and strangers. Jesus is acting the role of the social revolutionary, the tender prophet who upsets the status quo. Mark's story was not of a cozy, homey Jesus. It was a story of the wild, unpredictable Jesus who offered God's radical hospitality to those whom society marginalized.
Thus, the passage from Mark became for me part of my passage to adult faith. The Sunday school wall art moved to the space of sacred memory, and the Jesus of scripture called me to leave comfort behind to receive the inverted kingdom of God.
Diana Butler Bass (www.dianabutlerbass.com) wanted to open her Advent calendar in community this year, and she is sharing her daily reflections with Sojourners readers online. She is the author of the forthcoming A People's History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story (March 2009).