There is much to love about a Christmas program. Wonderful, well-rehearsed music. Joyful children ready to proclaim their memorized lines. Devoted volunteers coordinating behind the scenes for months. A sanctuary full of supportive parents and grandparents.

We are in the midst of that magnificent time of year when calendars are bursting with Sunday School programs, live nativities, and holiday musical concerts. We had our Christmas program at church last Sunday. It was a 100 percent delight!

Now is a prime time to pause and reflect on the deeper value of all these seasonal events. The children who sing, play instruments, and act at holiday programs are more than precious, mini-adults. They are messengers who bring the good news of Jesus' birth to us in a myriad of ways.

I regret that in the past, sometimes my default response when seeing youngsters at a Christmas program was to immediately affirm their cuteness. Boys with tiny ties. Girls with curls. Admittedly, they are precious!

But I've realized over time that focusing comments on their sweet appearances distracts from (and perhaps even diminishes) the larger ministry they provide. They are leaders, prophets, and spokespeople of God!

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For the following reasons, I give special thanks and praise for the children among us and their mission as Christmas program participants:

They are willing to stand in front of a large group of people and proclaim the good news.It's astounding. Many adults would be too nervous to do the same. But kids often have no trouble going for it. What great role models they are for the rest of us!

Thank you, kids, for reminding us to be brave. Thank you for showing us that when we're sharing the love of Jesus with others, we don't need to be afraid. We can be bold!

Children sing! Publicly and loud!Children often sing at full volume. They learn choreography. And they generally don't worry about whether their neighbors sing all the right notes. Instead, they just sing joyfully and unapologetically.

Thank you, kids. Thank you for showing us that making a joyful noise is not about being the best singer in the room. It's just about opening our mouths and praising God with the voice we've been given!

They are the stars that lead us back to Jesus.In the Gospel of Matthew, a star in the sky leads the wise men to Jesus. Without the star to follow, the wise men may have gotten distracted or lost.

This time of year, there are lots of distractions for all of us. It's easy to get lost in the midst of the holiday hullaballoo. Children's programs guide us back to the infant in the manger. To Mary and Joseph. To the birthplace of eternal hope. Thank you for leading us back home, kids.

What a joy to follow the lead of children this time of year. They share the story of Christ's birth with courage and excitement, and they inspire us to do the same.

The Lady Pastor is a weekly column by Emily Carson, a Lutheran pastor in Stewartville. Visit her blog at: www.emilyannecarson.com.