Jesus calls the little child to Himself, and sets him in the midst of His disciples. And He calls you, as well, to become like such a child in the humility of repentance, in the discipline of faith.
It is by the Cross of Christ that you are thus born again as a child of God the Father, as a little one of the Lord: By your Baptism into His death, which is not simply a one-shot deal that you outgrow, but a decisive beginning with an ongoing, lifelong, daily significance. As the Son of God Himself became a little Child, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary; and the same Lord Jesus humbled Himself, taking the form of a servant, and became obedient, even to the point of death.
The greatness of the little child in the Kingdom of Heaven, therefore, is the greatness of humility before God, like that of Christ the Crucified. Not just modesty, but genuine dependence and need, as well as confident trust in the Father’s gracious providence.
In point of fact, everyone alike has such dependence and need, but the humility of repentant faith recognizes and acknowledges that need. And where there is such humility before God, which fears the Lord and also loves and trusts in Him, there is also love for the neighbor.
Outwardly speaking, insofar as life on earth is concerned, little children in particular have an utter dependency and need that adults generally do not have. Not only for their bodily well-being, food and clothing, shelter and protection, but also for discipline, instruction, and training; for correction and guidance in the way they should go; and for mercy and forgiveness wherever they go wrong.
To live as a child of God in Christ, in His Kingdom, is to live by faith in His gracious forgiveness of sins, and so also to learn from Him, from His paternal correction and loving discipline: All of which flows from and with and in His love, and aims at your life and salvation in Christ forever.
Within the Kingdom of God, within His household and family, you and your brothers and sisters in Christ are all alike in your need for His mercy, and in His grace toward you in Christ Jesus. For there is one Lord, one faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all Christians, one Holy Spirit poured out upon you in Christ, and one divine Name with which you are named; and so do one and all depend upon one and the same forgiveness of sins, obtained by one and the same Cross.
Therefore, love and care for each other. Not only as you love and care for yourselves, and as you all desire to be loved and cared for, but as your dear Father in heaven loves you and cares for you.
Fundamental to the loving care of God the Father, and of His children for each other, is the free and full forgiveness of sins; which belongs to the way He has taught you to pray, and to live.
To be sure, such forgiveness does not excuse, ignore, or make light of sin. It rather confronts sin head on, and removes it by the Cross of Christ, by the repentance of His atoning sacrifice: As a father disciplines his son in love; as the governing authorities punish crimes for the protection of all the citizens; and as a doctor cuts out a cancer, or amputates a gangrenous limb, to save the body.
So the humility of repentance is both a contrite turning away from sin and every evil, because these are deadly and damnable, and a turning to the forgiveness of sins by faith in the Gospel of Christ.
In this life on earth — even for the Church, living under the cross — and for each and every Christian in the frailty of mortal flesh — there is inevitable stumbling, falling, and going astray. Love does not excuse or rationalize such errors and sins. But neither does love grow weary of seeking out, raising up, bringing back, and reconciling the lost, by calling to repentance and forgiving sins. Just as a parent does not tire to the point of giving up in the training of the toddler, the two-year-old, or even the teenager, but continues to love and serve and care for the child.
You discipline your own heart and mind and flesh, or you certainly should, with self-examination, repentance, and confession, in order to lay hold of life and love in the Gospel of Christ Jesus.
In the same Spirit, and with similar care, call your brother or sister to repentance, in order that your brother or sister may live by the same grace as yourself, in the same Body of Christ, as a member of the same household and family, as a beloved child of the same God and Father.
Learn to see the face of your God and Father in your brother or sister; which is really to see Christ Jesus, the only-begotten Son, the Image and Likeness of the Father, in your brother or sister: As our Father in heaven sees Christ Jesus, His beloved Son, in you and in all your fellow Christians.
Because Christ has taken His stand with sinners, especially by His Baptism in the Jordan River, and He has united Himself and bound Himself to His Bride, the Church; not because she was so pure and holy and faultless, but so that she by grace receives and shares His purity and holiness, His righteousness and innocence and blessedness, in the outpouring of His love for her.
Thus the Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, eats with gentiles, tax collectors, prostitutes, and all manner of sinners, and in His mercy and forgiveness He calls them to become His disciples — to be the children of His own God and Father — and to eat with Him at His Table in Peace.
And here is the true divine greatness with which He has done all of this, also for you, and for all:
He has, in fact, become the little Child; and from infancy to adulthood, He has lived as the one true Man in perfect faith and holy love.
As a Child, He depended on His Mother Mary and His stepfather Joseph. He also honored them, served and obeyed them, loved and cherished them. He submitted Himself to His parents in all things. And He received good things from them, as well; He learned from them!
And as true Man, in real flesh and blood like yours, He experienced hunger and thirst, tiredness, heat and cold, hurt and pain, and finally death upon the Cross under the judgment of the Law.
Though He had no sins of His own, He took upon Himself the sins of the whole world, and He bore the consequences, the guilt and shame, and the responsibility for all of them. He bowed His head to wear around His neck the heavy millstone of the entire curse of all sins, and He submitted Himself to be drowned and die in the depths of the sea. He thus made Himself dependent on His Father’s forgiveness of all those sins, trusting in the promise of His Baptism.
To such an extent did the Lord Jesus humble Himself like a child, unto His death on the Cross, in the confidence that His Father would justify Him and raise Him from the dead in righteousness.
So it is that His Cross and Passion are the way of repentance by which you are born again as a child of God and raised to newness of life in His Resurrection from the dead.
And so it is that real greatness is found in the Cross. Not only by the humility and repentance that it works in you, but chiefly by way of the forgiveness of sins that it freely grants to you and to all.
For the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus, the beloved and well-pleasing Son of God, are the patience and persistence of your Father in heaven: These are the ways and means by which He recalls you, and reconciles you to Himself, and forgives you all your sins through the Gospel.
His good and gracious will for you is that you should not perish but live. And it is for this reason that He rejoices over your forgiveness, your recovery and salvation, even more than He would rejoice over a hypothetical ninety-nine sheep who never strayed. For in raising you from the dead, from the depths and damnation of your sin, He beholds in you His own dear Son, crucified and risen from the dead, and He calls you His dearly-beloved child and heir.
In His forgiveness of all your sins, in Jesus’ Name, His good and gracious Will is done: on earth, as it is in heaven. And all the angels and archangels rejoice, give thanks, and sing with all of us.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.