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Thinking Out Loud

The Gospel as Fairy Tale: A Reading for Advent

by Michael Jinkins | Dec 06, 2016

This Advent our blogs all point toward the promise of incarnation. Each is a reading from a well-known Christian writer.

Gospel as Fairy TaleTo start us off is one of the most beloved Presbyterian writers, Frederick Buechner, whose Lyman Beecher Lectures were published in 1977 to wide acclaim. For many pastors of my generation, Buechner's lectures, Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale, his non-fiction books like Wishful Thinking and his novels such as Godric, ignited our creative spirits and liberated us to preach more interesting and imaginative sermons.

Our first Advent reading is from Buechner's lecture, "The Gospel as Fairy Tale."* It reminds us of the paradoxical nature of the gospel, the fantastic irony at the heart of the revelation of God in Jesus of Nazareth.

"When Jesus is asked who is the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven, he reaches into the crowd and pulls out a child with a cheek full of bubble gum and eyes full of whatever a child's eyes are full of and says unless you become like that, don't bother to ask.

"And as for the king of the kingdom himself, whoever would recognize him? He has no form or comeliness. His clothes are what he picked up at a rummage sale. He hasn't shaved for weeks. He smells of mortality. We have romanticized his raggedness so long that we can catch echoes only of the way it must have scandalized his time in the horrified question of the Baptist's disciples, 'Are you he who is to come?' (Matt. 11:13); in Pilate's 'Are you the king of the Jews?' (Matt. 27:11) you with the pants that don't fit and a split lip; in the black comedy of the sign they nailed over his head where the joke was written in three languages so nobody would miss the laugh.

"But the whole point of the fairy tale of the Gospel is, of course, that he is the king in spite of everything. The frog turns out to be the prince, the ugly duckling the swan, the little gray man who asks for bread the great magician with the power of life and death in his hands, and though the little tin soldier falls into the flames, his love turns out to be fireproof. There is no less danger and darkness in the Gospel than there is in the Brothers Grimm, but beyond and above all there is the joy of it, this tale of a light breaking into the world that not even the darkness can overcome.

"That is the Gospel, this meeting of darkness and light and the final victory of light. That is the fairy tale of the Gospel with, of course, the one crucial difference from all other fairy tales, which is that the claim made for it is that it is true, that it not only happened once upon a time but has kept on happening ever since and is happening still." [Frederick Buechner, Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1977), pp. 89-90.]

*Editor’s note: Text from Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale used with permission by Frederick Buechner Literary Assets, LLC.

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