Audrey and I read through the Bible together because that is what fathers do. I think that is what fathers do. Her mother reads with her on nights when I’m away at work. They read stories about large red dogs and small identifiable objects. What is it? Can you find the letter ‘Y’? Where is the Giraffe? I read the story of Adam and Eve in the Jesus Storybook Bible. Or I read the story of Abraham and Isaac, or of that mighty, stinking Ark, full of God’s love and mercy treading oceans of judgment. Or I read about Samson, a womanizing and blustering fool who feared no man but himself even in his final act – part vanity and part faith. Which I suppose is the composition of you and me most of the time. Recently we read through the story of the Advent and I prayed as I read that the words would find soft ground in her heart. I read and Audrey asked questions over me:
Who is that? What is he doing?
He’s looking at Jesus the baby.
What is HE doing?
He is also watching the baby Jesus.
Before I finish my explanation she asks another question about another illustrated character.
What is HE doing?!
He’s a cow eating and watching Jesus.
I ask her to stop asking questions so daddy can finish reading the story because this story is very important, I tell her. I should tell myself; prone to distraction as anyone. And she lies back against the pillow or against my chest and watches me turn the pages and listens to me say, well, what exactly I am not sure. She knows in some places that the story is sad or the story is funny or triumphant. She knows in some places that I speak another way altogether. It is the same way I speak when I warn her ahead of time that something will be powerful and dangerous, or delicate. Advent gets that tone, the tone of reverence. One day she’ll understand reverence, I think. One day I may even understand it.
* * *
There was no room for them at the Inn, Audrey. And they were outside in the stable and there were animals like the animals you have seen at the zoo like cattle and sheep. And there was Jesus as a baby. There was his mommy and his daddy. Well, not exactly his daddy. You see, Jesus was begotten not made. He was very God of very God. But here he was a drooling, pooping very God. He was God on the straw. And the people are there because they know that Jesus is very special. They know that Jesus came to fix the world from bad and sad things. They know that Jesus is good and Jesus cares for them and Jesus is strong. Yes, that is a chicken.
You see everyone watching Jesus? They are watching because they waited a long time for Jesus to be born. They waited years and years for Jesus and there were a lot of bad and sad things that happened while they waited. They watched him while the cow mooed and the sheep baaed. And shots rang out in elementary schools. And they waited while they were happy and while they were sad, too. So they were quiet because they were so glad that Jesus was finally born. Do you know what they did when they saw Jesus in the manger? They worshipped him. They worshipped him kid. Just like we must worship him too.
* * *
What is he doing? It is a question for the grown up that reads the story as much as the child who listens. Maybe it is a question for the man or woman so eager to turn one page into the next, one season to the next. What is HE doing? He is saving my life. What is HE doing?! He is bringing peace so heartening and deep that the parent becomes a child again watching the manger. He has come, he really has. There are the sheep and the oxen. There are the mother and father and the shepherds smelling more like animals than the animals. And here I am and here you are too. What is he doing here? It is a question every reader and listener must answer. There is a saying somewhere that you can take the man out of the fields but you cannot take the fields out of the man. What is he doing? He is doing what I cannot do.
He is being born into our straw worlds. This is what HE is doing. He is being born into a stable for beasts of all sorts. He is beating swords into plowshares, He is restoring the years locusts have taken. He is mothering the orphan and fathering the fatherless. He is shouldering the government, He is binding up the wounded. He is vindicating, He is repaying. He is laying before us the Great Story and making readers of us all.