By Alan W. Dowd
My most memorable and Christ-exalting Christmas came at a most-unexpected time. Our family had a “Happy Birthday Jesus” party that Christmas, complete with a birthday cake.
After he helped blow out the candles, my nephew Mike asked, “Where is Jesus?” It was an honest, matter-of-fact question. Yet he asked it so emphatically, so earnestly, so seriously that I was caught off guard. “I need to see him!” he said, almost demanding an answer.
Two months shy of his third birthday, Mike was struggling with one of the central questions of faith and asking for help in the struggle—on Christmas morning no less. I couldn’t send him on his way with a patronizing pat on the head. I couldn’t change the subject. I couldn’t even distract him with a pile of Christmas morning treasures. He wanted to see Jesus, and he was serious.
In the span of a few seconds, our happy little Christmas party was transformed not so much into a test of my faith, but rather a test of my ability to explain my faith in terms that would satisfy a relentlessly curious 34-month-old.
I did my best to give an answer worthy of the question—and worthy of the precious person asking it—but I wasn’t satisfied with my response. And I doubt my nephew was. Thankfully, Mike’s dad and his great uncle were there to assist.
Yet Mike’s question and my answer hounded me the rest of the day and into the night. So, late Christmas night, I tried to answer Mike’s question by turning to what I know best: the written word. With the Lord’s help, here’s how I answered my little nephew’s big question:
Kings and Cake and Couch Forts
Once upon a time, a little boy named Michael asked a big question.
“Where is Jesus?” he asked. “I want to see him.” His voice grew louder and stronger. “I need to see him.”
He was sweet but determined, and he wanted an answer to his question. He almost demanded an answer.
“He is in our hearts,” I said, figuring that would be enough to satisfy him. “He is in your heart.”
“Jesus is in the love we share for family and friends,” Michael’s dad—my brother—explained.
“He’s in the hugs your mommy and daddy give you,” added Uncle Steve. “Jesus is there when you are kind to your cousin and sweet to your friends,” he said.
But that wasn’t enough for Michael, the little boy with the big question.
So he asked his question again, this time with an even stronger, firmer voice.
“Where is Jesus? I need to see him!”
Michael’s words caught us—especially me—by surprise. They were so sweet and sincere that they reminded me of something I had almost forgotten: We were made to yearn for Jesus, to look for him, to be with him.
The good news for the little boy with the big question and for me and for everybody else is that when we look for Jesus and seek him, we will find him.
I believe that deeply, but how could I explain it to someone not yet in nursery school?
I decided to start with the Word. So I explained to Michael that Jesus is God’s Word made into flesh.
“It’s hard to understand,” I wrote, “but Jesus lives in his Word, the Bible. So, when we read his Word—little boys with big questions, grammies and grandpas with big hearts, uncles and aunts with big hugs—we hear his whisper. We see his reflection. We find light for our path.”
“Jesus lives in our hearts, too,” I added. “Jesus is wherever there is love, which means he is in your heart, Michael. And your heart grows bigger and bigger the more you believe in him, the more you know him, the more you yearn for him.”
“You can see Jesus in the sunrise and sunset, the moon and the night sky, on a sunny beach or a snowy mountaintop,” I explained with the best words I could muster. “He is in the colors of creation and the colors of your crayons.”
“You can hear him in the songs the birds sing and in the songs you sing,” I wrote, hoping that my answer was worthy of his question.
“Jesus is in your mommy’s calm and gentle way, and in your daddy’s passion and strength,” I added, pointing to the people Mike knows best, the people who know and love him best.
“Jesus is in your grandpa’s gentleness and your grandma’s sweetness. He’s in their happy hugs and loving laughter,” I wrote, remembering how my first mental picture of God when I was a kid was my Grandpa Dowd—a kind, good, fair, and loving man who embodied “the righteous man” described in James 5.
“Jesus reigns in Heaven and one day we will see him face to face,” I promised, clinging to the promise of Scripture. “On that day, there will be singing and dancing, laughter and joy, lemon cake and puzzles, peace and justice, couch-forts and parks, slides and swings.”
Mike, you see, loves eating lemon cake, solving puzzles, going to parks and finding new slides to conquer, and building forts from couch cushions.
“It will be the greatest family reunion ever. You will meet Noah and his kids, Abraham and Moses, King David and Queen Esther, Mary and Joseph, your daddy’s grandpas, and an uncle and an Archangel who share your name,” I wrote, reminding my precious nephew that he’s named in honor of another precious little boy—his mom’s brother—who went to be with the Lord long before he was old enough to be an uncle.
“And on that day, you will meet the one who made you: Jesus, the King of kings, the Lion of Judah, the Lamb of God. He said, not so long ago, that those of us who believe in him and yet do not see him are blessed,” I wrote, recalling one of the Lord’s many promises to all of us who call him Savior.
“Remember that, but don’t stop longing for him. He loves to hear you say, ‘I need to see Jesus,’ because he loves it when his children search for him and look for him, which means he loves you very, very much,” I concluded. “You will know him when you see him, Michael. And he will definitely know you: the little boy with the big question.”
Seeing Jesus Always
As I finished my letter for Michael a few days after Christmas, I hoped and prayed that the Lord would use my words to help Michael in his search for Jesus. And then I realized something just as humbling and inspiring and touching as Mike’s question: The Lord had already used my nephew’s words to challenge me and draw me closer—to help me see Jesus in more ways, clearer ways, always.
Alan W. Dowd is a freelance writer in Fishers, Indiana.
Your Favorite Christmas
Think through or write down the story of your favorite Christmas. It could be an idyllic Christmas from your childhood, your child’s first Christmas, or a tough Christmas where God showed himself to you in powerful ways.
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