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Thinking Out Loud

God's Big Idea: A Reading for Advent

by Michael Jinkins | Dec 13, 2016

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

God's Big IdeaOne of my favorite writers, and one of my favorite people, is Barbara Brown Taylor. This week's Advent reading is drawn from a Christmas reflection by Barbara*, which has deservedly gotten a lot of play. I found it on the website of the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas. In that context, Bishop Gary Lillibridge shared it with his staff during the Eucharist.

We pick up the reflection at the point where Barbara has been recounting the various ways God has tried to communicate the message of love with fallen humanity.

"[God did everything he could to get their attention.] He shouted to them from the sidelines, using every means he could think of, including floods, famines, manna, and messengers. He ... got inside peoples' dreams, and if that did not work, he woke them up in the middle of the night with his whispering. No matter what he tried, however, he came up against the barriers of flesh and blood. They were made of it and God was not, which made translation difficult. God would say, 'Please stop before you destroy yourselves!' but all they could hear was thunder. God would say, 'I love you as much now as the day I made you,' but all they could hear was a loon calling across the water.

"[There was one] exception to this sad state of affairs: [babies]. While their parents were all but deaf to God's messages, babies didn't have any trouble hearing God at all. They were all the time laughing at God's jokes or crying with God when he cried, which went right over their parents' heads. 'Colic,' the grown-ups would say, or 'Isn't she cute? She's laughing at the dust mites in the sunlight.' Only she wasn't, of course. She was laughing because God had just told her it was cleaning day in heaven, and that what she saw were fallen stars the angels were shaking from their feather dusters.

“[Not only did babies hear and understand God, they had other advantages.] Babies did not go to war. Babies never made speeches or littered or refused to play with each other because they belonged to different political parties. Babies were crazy about God and they hung on his every word. [Perhaps best of all, they] depended on other people for everything necessary to their lives so a phrase like 'self-made babies' would have made them laugh until their [little] bellies hurt. While no one asked babies' opinions about anything that mattered (which was too bad because it would have been a smart thing to do), almost everyone seemed to love them, and that gave God an idea. If God was a baby, they would all love him! Why not create himself as one of these delightful creatures?


"It was a daring plan, and once the angels saw that God was dead set on it, they broke into applause. ... While they were still clapping, God turned around and left the cabinet chamber, shedding his robes as he went. The angels watched as his midnight blue mantle fell to the floor, so that all the stars on it collapsed in a heap. Then a strange thing happened. Where the robes had fallen, the floor melted and opened up to reveal a scrubby brown pasture speckled with sheep and - right in the middle of them - a bunch of shepherds, sitting around a campfire drinking wine out of a skin. It was hard to say who was more startled, the shepherds or the angels, but as the shepherds looked up at them, the angels pushed their senior archangel to the edge of the hole. Looking down at the human beings who were all trying to hide behind each other (poor things, no wings), the angel said in as gentle a voice as he could muster, 'Do not be afraid; for see I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people; to you is born in the city of David a savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.' And away up the hill from the direction of town, came the sound of a newborn baby's cry."

*Text from Barbara Brown Taylor, “God’s Daring Plan,” in Bread of Angels (Plymouth, UK: Cowley Publications, 1997) used with permission.

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