Rev. Ellen Jennings
For So the Children Come by Sophia Lyon Fahs
For so the children come
And so they have been coming.
Always in the same way they come—
Born of the seed of man and woman.
No angels herald their beginnings
No prophets predict their future courses
No wise men see a star to show
where to find the babe that will save humankind
Yet each night a child is born is a holy night.
Fathers and mothers—sitting beside their children’s cribs—
feel glory in the sight of a new life beginning.
They ask, “Where and how will this new life end?
Or will it ever end?”
Each night a child is born is a holy night—
A time for singing,
A time for wondering,
A time for worshipping.
Sophia Lyon Fahs: you’ve likely never heard her name. So, I’m delighted to introduce this amazing innovator in many different arenas, including the religious education of children at a time when Sunday School often meant rote memorization of bible verses.
Sophia was born in 1876 and lived over a hundred years, making a theological, personal and academic journey few others in her era- or ours- have made. Born in China to Presbyterian missionaries, she grew up in Ohio within a religiously conservative family. However, her own theological curiosity led her beyond those confines to study at Union Seminary in New York City, where she became one of the first female faculty members in the 1920s. After marrying and giving birth to five children, only three of whom survived (she knew of what she wrote), Sophia became editor of Parents magazine in the 1940s. Then in 1945 she joined a Unitarian Church, found her theological home, and was ordained a minister by the Cedar Lane Congregation right outside Washington, DC.
Of all these roles and adventures, Sophia’s primary passion was the education of children, specifically religious education. She believed in honoring and cultivating each child’s spiritual curiosity while introducing them to a wide range of cultural and religious ideas, thus encouraging their naturally open hearts and minds to embrace the wisdom and beauty from different customs and traditions. She honored their wonder, their spirit and their unique, even opinionated, selves in an era when children were typically told to be seen, not heard, and certainly weren’t invited to bring their own insights and ideas to religious conversation and convention!
Importantly, her concern for children didn’t end with the relatively privileged ones in her own congregation and denomination. She understood, in a time like ours— when too many question the value of those whose color, language, education or income is different from their own— that all children are equally valuable, equally deserving of attention and love. She believed each night a child is born is a special night. That every child born is a special child.
And, friends, this is what Jesus believed as well. Yes, he was a very special child. But it wasn’t his own specialness that mattered or that he preached. It was the unique value of every human who comes into this world. It was the poor and the hungry, the imprisoned and the oppressed, the stranger and outsider, the disdained and disowned, the women… and children (in a world where neither had much status at all).
For Jesus, as for Sophia, each night a child is born is a special night. And every child born is a special child. Thus, I pray, on this night, when we celebrate his miraculous birth, we remember also his message: the love of all people, most especially the least of these, along with the heretical notion that the first shall be last and the last first. In a world that now and always has placed a premium on the rich and powerful, Jesus intentionally (insistently) lifted up those who are marginalized, undervalued and cast away. And on this night, this very special night, our tradition brings us the beautiful story of his own upside down, marginalized, cast away and undervalued birth.
So, I leave you with this beautiful reminder of the true meaning of Christmas: that God, Emmanuel, is with each one of us, that every human being is equally special, equally loved in the eyes and heart of God, that every person here tonight is equally special, equally loved in the eyes and heart of God.
Each night a child is born is a special night.