Jesus didn’t exclude any of the children. He wants to get to know them, to love them, to rescue them, to journey through life with them.
Whether you are well into the preparations and are already panicking slightly, or are confidently sitting back thinking that you have still got loads of time so what is all the fuss about, Christmas is coming!
Each sleep is one sleep less until the big day, each opened advent calendar window is another piece of chocolate delight less before Christmas Day itself.
It’s easy to get caught up in the Coca-Cola advert version of Christmas, with Santa, Christmas trees, presents, food and drink, but this is also a time to remember what Christmas is really all about, and for all of us, including those of us with children with additional needs, or those of us that care for them, that is where the real gift of Christmas comes in.
Around 2,000 years ago, in a filthy stable round the back of an inn situated in an unremarkable town in Israel, a woman gave birth to her baby boy and the world changed forever.
This was no ordinary baby, this one was different, unique even, and throughout the next 33 years of his life he transformed everything.
Jesus was God come to Earth, Emmanuel as we sing in the carols, and the Good News is that he came to rescue us all, every single one of us, from the mess we have each of us made of things.
As we remember the nativity story, with its angels and shepherds, inn keeper and wise men, star and animals, Mary and Joseph, and of course the baby Jesus himself, it might be hard to imagine how this familiar scene can bring good news to children with additional needs and their families.
Here’s eight reasons why we should think differently though…
The good news of Jesus’ arrival was delivered by angels (Luke 2:8-15), and they specifically declared that this good news was for everyone, that it will bring great joy for all the people.
Not just some, not just the ones that always get chosen for everything, or invited to all the parties; no, this good news is for rich and poor, old and young, those who have additional needs and those who don’t, everyone.
And that includes our children with additional needs, this good news about Jesus is for each and every one of them too.
Jesus had a tough start to his life (Matthew 2:13-15). Apart from being born in a stable in a town miles away from where his family lived, he was in danger of his life from the moment he arrived, hated as a threat by King Herod.
Made a refugee in another country with his family to flee from the terror and threat that was pursuing him, Jesus would have led an unsettled life for those first few years.
Some children with additional needs can have a tough start to life too, maybe a difficult birth, their lives at risk, having to start life in a hospital, miles from home, life can be unsettling.
And, of course, there are refugee children with additional needs too, or who have acquired additional needs as a result of their journey to escape from tyranny, war, and oppression.
Jesus gets what some of this is like, he lived through some of this himself, and although he didn’t have additional needs himself, he understands the hardship children can experience.
Three magi or wise men, travellers from the east, came to see Jesus and to bring gifts for him (Matthew 2:9-12).
He must have wondered who these strange people were, dressed so differently to his family and the other local people he would have seen.
Children with additional needs often have to meet strangers, medical professionals, or social care professionals, for example. Sometimes they will wonder who these people are too, but just like the strangers that came to meet Jesus, we hope that these people have each child’s best interests at heart.
Later on in his life, as an adult, people brought their children to meet Jesus.
Some of his disciples tried to send them away, but Jesus rebuked them saying, “Let the little children come to me. Don’t keep them away. The kingdom of heaven belongs to people like them.” (Matthew 19:14)
You will notice that he didn’t add “except that one that can’t walk, and that one who is hyperactive, and that one who can’t see very well…” Jesus didn’t exclude any of the children, he invited them all, every single one of them.
And he calls each of our children to come to him too, he wants to get to know them, to love them, to rescue them, to journey through life with them.
Jesus encourages us not just to follow his lead in welcoming all children, including children with additional needs, but to become like them too… Jesus called a little child over to him. He had the child stand among them.
Jesus said, “What I’m about to tell you is true. You need to change and become like little children. If you don’t, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Anyone who takes the humble position of this child is the most important in the kingdom of heaven. Anyone who welcomes a little child like this one in my name welcomes me. (Matthew 18:2-5)
Jesus stressed the importance of respecting children, all children, including children with additional needs…
“See that you don’t look down on one of these little ones. Here is what I tell you. Their angels in heaven are always with my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 18:10-11)
Whether it was children that were sick, children that had conditions such as epilepsy, or even giving life back to children that had died, there are many stories in the Gospels about Jesus spending time with, and interacting with, children with additional needs.
They mattered to him then and they still do today.
Once Jesus had accomplished his mission on Earth, had died to save us all, and had come back to life to bring us all eternal life, he went back to heaven. Before he left, he gave his disciples one final instruction, and it’s an instruction for us all…
He said to them, “Go into all the world. Preach the good news to everyone.” (Mark 16:15) As with the time that he invited all the children to come to him, so here he declares that his good news is for everyone, including children with additional needs.
As we celebrate Jesus’ birth this Christmas time, whether we are parents and carers of children with additional needs, or children’s and youth workers that journey with them, let us continually remind ourselves and give thanks that he came to love and rescue them all. Every. Single. One.
Mark Arnold, Director of Additional Needs Ministry at Urban Saints. Arnold blogs at The Additional Needs Blogfather. This article was re-published with permission.
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