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It is a time honored cliche but there is truth in the saying that out of the mouths of children comes a lot of wisdom. The University of California at Berkeley conducted a study on differences in wisdom between adults and children under the age of 15. What they found were obviously higher levels of intelligence in adults but a remarkably similar level of wisdom between youth and adults. Even more, the study noted that children do not filter their intuitive sense of what is wise and true through a prism of acquired facts which, as we know, can be manipulated in adult minds based on belief systems. Instead, children have a fluid sense of intelligence that translates into wisdom and cleverness which they have obtained simply by viewing the world around them. Without adult filters, therefore, young people have a purer sense of truth as they offer us wise words that merit our attention.
Here are a few gems of wisdom on love and life from children.
From Megan, age 8, “If someone gives you free ice cream, you should clean their room for them.”
An unknown child says: “When your mother is mad and asks you, ‘Do I look stupid?’, it is best not to answer her.”
Ricky, age 7 says: “Tell your wife she looks pretty even if she looks like a truck!”
and, he also adds, “Love is like an avalanche where you have to run for your life!”
from Jonathon, age 8: “Nothing hurts more than guilt.”
from an unknown child: “No matter how much you cry at night, things won’t change unless you help them change.”
with all due apologies to Teri Emerson, Jack, age 9 says: “Piano lessons can make fifteen minutes feel like an hour.”
Angie, age 10, says: “Most men are brainless, so you might have to try more than once to find a live one!”
Mae, age 9, said: “No one is sure why love happens, but I heard it has something to do with how you smell. That’s why perfume and deodorant are so popular.”
from another unknown child, “Life is too short to waste time matching socks.” I agree with that!!!
and, finally, Dave, age 8, says: “Love will find you, even if you are trying to hide from it. I been trying to hide from it since I was five, but the girls keep finding me.”
The wonderful thing about all of these statements is that each one rings true and is wise. Be nice to people even if you have to tell a white lie. Be generous. Be a peacemaker. Practice the Golden Rule. Spend your time doing things that matter. Personal pity parties do not change anything. And, romantic love is an eternally hopeful emotion even as it is one of the hardest things we practice in life.
Such wisdom expressed by children is one reason why the holiday television classic “A Charlie Brown Christmas” has been so successful. Indeed, it is also a reason why Charles Schultz’s Peanuts comic strip remains popular around the world over sixty years after it began.
In Schultz’s Christmas television show, we watch as children – Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, Schroeder, Sally and others – work through all of the emotions adults have about the holidays. But they do so as children while they engage in uniquely child focused activities – like writing letters to Santa, putting on a Christmas pageant, or simply playing in the snow. Charles Schultz’s brilliance as a comic strip writer was that his children characters deal with very adult issues. Charlie Brown must work through his holiday depression. Sally expresses the greed many feel in wanting big and lavish gifts. The other children simply want to party, sing and dance as a way to express their holiday joy – events that we adults try every year to create. And Linus is the wise one in us all who is able to see beyond the superficial and frivolous activities of the holidays to find the real meaning of Christmas – one of hope, generosity, peace and love.
By excluding all adults from his comic strips and from his television specials, Shultz created a world where the wisdom of children predominates. Indeed, there are no adult characters or voices used in any of the Peanuts comic strips or television shows – only a wah-wah-wah voice for adults symbolizing both the gap in communication between adults and kids as well as the sometimes arrogant and far too complex speaking styles of most grown ups. I imagine kids here today are hearing the same sound from me as I speak: blah, blah, blah…..wah-wah-wah-wah!
How Schultz used only kids to express his humor and his ideas perfectly captures a major theme of the Christmas holiday. We celebrate the birth of a baby conceived out of wedlock to two teenage parents. The story of that child’s birth is the reason for the season. The babe born in a manger has come to symbolize, much like all children do, the innocence, purity and hope of youth. Indeed, that child as an adult prophet taught that we should have faith like a child – a faith that is wide eyed with wonder, a faith that is grounded in the inherent goodness of all people, a faith that is just, fair and understanding.
Children, as we all know, are not perfect people. We all seem to be born with the inherent human desire to think of the self over the interests of others – a character flaw we spend lifetimes working against. But like adults, as the Berkeley University study has shown, children possess a knowing wisdom that it is unfiltered by grown up biases, fears, hatreds, disfunction, arrogance and self-consciousness. Children intuitively know what is good and just. They know what constitutes real joy. They perceive nature and the universe not with jaundiced eyes but with the awe and respect that they deserve. They know how to live in the moment – not fearing the future or regretting the past.
I’ve described before the first few Christmases of my oldest daughter Sara. As a young toddler, she delighted on Christmas morning not in all of the toys Santa had brought her, but instead in the opened boxes, torn wrapping paper and colored ribbons all around. A teddy bear that moves its mouth and says a few recorded words? Big deal! But, oh! those boxes and all that paper – they were the stuff of houses to build, hats to wear and bright necklaces to put on herself and others. She taught me a great lesson. Adult attitudes and adult seriousness should not be allowed at Christmas. Have fun! Be silly! Stop focusing on the perfect meal, the expensive gift or creating manufactured merriment. Simply be. Simply stare in wonder at all the lights. Laugh at Uncle Fred’s corny jokes. Act like a child. Have faith in the hope that all will be good. Celebrate the here and now.
And so, in that spirit, I ask everyone here to put on a party hat under your chair, take the noisemakers in hand, act silly – shout out in celebration of the morning – for just a moment, right now, take on the spirit of a child!(noisemakers, hats, child like fun!)
What I hope to convey this morning is that young children intuitively “get” the real meaning of the holidays. Whether or not they know or understand the religious meanings, they do know it is a season about hope, about fun, and about joy. Just as my daughter Sara understood Christmas morning was not about the elaborate gifts but instead about play, about the lights, the festive ribbons, cookies, and time with others, so too can we as dour adults give in to our inner child.
It’s all of us adults who have made Christmas so commercial, so busy, so elaborate and so serious. If we left the holidays in control of children, or of the child in us all, we’d let go of trying to impress others with big parties, fancy meals, expensive gifts or perfect celebrations. We’d be like my young Sara – putting on silly hats and laughing and playing with friends and family. We would spend Christmas Day in our pajamas, play games, eat candy canes, decorate our trees with handmade ornaments, happily reminisce and share meaningful hopes and dreams of the future. There would be no worry about money because we would not have spent a lot. There would be no regret over past Christmases, departed loved ones or imperfect celebrations. Instead, whether we are alone or with fifty people, we’d live in the moment and celebrate the hope and exuberance we have inside us – that life right now is good, that the world around is beautiful and something to be enjoyed, that connecting with other people is what brings true joy. That is what the babe born in a manger should represent. Jesus was and is an every-child. And all children are symbols of hope and promise. All children are simple in their needs and wants. Feed them. Keep them warm. Love them. If we admit it, that is all we really want this Christmas or any other day – to have the basic securities of life, to be loved and to love, to embrace our existence and celebrate it right here, right now.
Like Charles Schultz, we should banish the adult in us from Christmas – and perhaps from life itself. I need to stop worrying so much. I need to take life and other people less seriously. I need to open my heart to innocence and forget cynicism. I need to be gentle with myself and others. Just as Charles Schultz did, I need to take the complicated matters of life and reduce them to their bare essentials. I’m not perfect. I’m broken. I make mistakes. But, deep inside, I know how to love. I know how to laugh. I know how to be silly and have fun. I know there is a child in me that yearns to be set free.
Charlie Brown represents for us a perfect, ironic success story. He’s someone who never succeeds in life even though, in truth, he does. His perseverance, his dogged determination to win a baseball game, to kick that football, to love a pathetic, unloved little Christmas tree, to retain an intuitive trust in other people, these are hallmarks of children. Don’t give up. Stay positive. Find success in how you live and how you treat others. Those are the same ethics of the baby Jesus – born to poverty and with seemingly no future.
(ending) That child calls us to live simply and humbly, love and serve others, embrace hope, live in the moment with happiness and fun in our hearts.
To all of the children here today, to all of the children in each one of us, I wish a merry, a silly, a laughter filled Christmas of great peace and much joy.