by Sister Carol J. Crater, SHF
Isaiah 52:7-10; Psalm 98; Hebrews 1:1-6; John 1:1-5,9-14
And the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us…or as our translation today says, And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. However you read it, our God is among us. Sure, he is off in some faraway galaxy, and sailing among the distant cosmic phenomena, but God is also among us, within us even.
Have you ever moved into a new house, or an apartment, or even a new bedroom, that you absolutely loved-loved-loved? And in the exhilaration of those first moments, you were already thinking of what you were going to change to make it better, to make it more you. A picture on the wall, curtains in the kitchen, a big-screen tv on that wall that is crying out for a big-screen tv.
I kind of see that as how God moved into his new home here on earth. As beautiful as it is, and as amazing in its variety and complexity, it is in some ways a bit of a fixer-upper. Now we might go about making it safer, making it more to our taste in terms of decor and convenience. But God gave us his plan for fixing it up in our first reading on the Second Sunday of Advent:
Okay, the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them. There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain.
No plans here for changing the locks, for making the dwelling more secure. No, God’s plan was for opening the doors, mixing everyone together. This isn’t very practical from our viewpoint, because we have a certain bias toward humans. We want the world to be safe for us and for our friends (dogs and cats and the like), and if some of the wilder creatures have to go, well, that’s just the way it is. Tigers and lions and elephants are okay, but really, who needs them? We have pictures.
But God on the other hand wants a place at the table for all of his creatures, and our Christmas literature — especially stories for children — is filled with images of the friendly beasts at the manger, and strange and unexpected reconciliations and cessations of hostility among all creatures, animal and human alike. I have two particularly favorite stories, both of which I discovered as an adult, both of which are available somewhere online (isn’t everything?)and both of which are by well-known authors.
The first is The Fox at the Manger by P. L. Travers, author of Mary Poppins. This story takes off from the carol “The Friendly Beasts at Jesus’ Manger,” and answers the question of a young child, “Why were there no wild animals in the song? Didn’t they bring anything to the baby Jesus? Were the wild animals not welcome at the manger?” The title of the book reveals that the story tells about the fox’s visit to the manger and his gift to the child, a gift that will cost him far more than the manger costs the cow or the song cost the dove.
The second book is Dance in the Desert, by well-known writer Madeleine L’Engle. This story follows a caravan into the desert, a caravan that perhaps unwisely has agreed to let a young couple and their baby come along with them as the family flees from trouble at home. The beautiful illustrations tell about one night in the desert when no one was afraid and everybody danced.
God has some ideas about how to fix up this favorite planet of his — well, I say that it is God’s favorite planet because it’s my favorite planet so it must be God’s favorite, too! — and now that he has moved in to stay, pitched his tent right here in our midst, he’s setting about making some changes. Today — well, tomorrow — is Christmas. And on the next day the real work of Christmas begins — bringing about God’s vision for life on this planet. That work, to make Christmas a gift for everyone, will fill us all year round with the joy of Christmas giving. We might even find ourselves humming Christmas carols in July, or wishing some stranger a Merry Christmas in September. Because once God moved into the neighborhood, he stayed — and nothing has been the same since.