A genoux, petits enfants – thoughts on worship at Christmas

“On your knees, little children.” (A genoux, petits enfants)

This line from “Petit Papa Noël” sung by Josh Groban reminds us that – like many things in life – worship is something we teach our children. At Christmas time, adults supervise children in pageants at church. The little shepherds and wisemen arrive in their ill-fitting but colorfully cute outfits, and parent snap pictures, pride welling up inside. What are we teaching? From this activity, we teach our young that the Divine demands our allegiance, is worthy of our adoration.

Ideally, it is only to God that we teach our children to bow, in deference to the First of the Ten Commandments: “No other gods; only me” (Exodus 20:3, The Message). This is crucial, because to bow our knees to anyone or anything but God is idolatry, the setting up of false gods in our lives. But sometimes I wonder: When the Christmas pageant is done, the cookies are eaten, the fellowship hall vacuumed and we’ve locked the church door behind us, what are we modeling to our young the rest of the year? Even if we never verbalize “On your knees, little children” through our daily actions and reactions, to what other gods are we encouraging our children to give their devotion?

Merriam Webster’s fourth definition of worship is “extravagant respect or admiration for or devotion to an object of esteem.” As I look around our world, I see a number of things that – while wholesome within limits – can morph into something else altogether, usurping the place in our lives that belongs only to God. You probably have your own list, but here are three from mine:

Exhibit A – Media

ImageThis is a huge influence in our daily lives, and encompasses so many “gadgets.” Television is only the most obvious. By the time an English child has reached the age of 7, he or she will have already spent 1/7 of their lives – one full year – in front of the television screen. Is your living room set-up with furniture all centered around a big-screen T.V. or is it set-up in a way that encourages conversation among those in the room? Positioning of objects speaks of priorities.

Sometimes the advantage of living overseas is coming back to the United States with fresh eyes on my own country. Walking onto the platform of the Washington D.C. subway, I was amazed to see at least 80% of those waiting for the subway to arrive glued to their “smart phone.” We were all physically together, yet in spirit, we were inhabiting hundreds of different virtual worlds. Is it any wonder that Democrats and Republicans have trouble talking about anything big when in our nation’s capital we don’t even converse with each other about small things while standing side-by-side? Has our devotion to our gadgets become extravagant, edging out the rich, in-the-flesh relationships that otherwise might flourish? (This may be an ironic question on a web-based blog, so you have permission to stop reading and to spend some time with your twelve-year-old).

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