Among John Shea’s poems, one finds a little piece entitled: Sharon’s Christmas Prayer. It reads:
She was five,
sure of the facts,
and recited them
with slow solemnity,
convinced every word
they were so poor
they had only peanut butter
and jelly sandwiches to eat
and they went a long way from home
without getting lost. The lady rode
a donkey, the man walked, and the baby
was inside the lady.
They had to stay in a stable
with an ox and an ass (hee-hee)
but the Three Rich Men found them
because a star lit the roof.
Shepherds came and you could
pet the sheep but not feed them.
Then the baby was born.
And do you know who he was?
Her quarter eyes inflated
to silver dollars.
The baby was God.
The Christmas story, as told by a child: Joseph and Mary journeying on a donkey, no room at the inn, birth in a stable, the star and the shepherds and the wise men and, of course, the baby, Jesus who was God. All the elements of the story are there, but, for an adult, it is too easy to miss how incredible it is that God takes on flesh.
The word became flesh and dwelt among us. What a wild and unbelievable statement! The infinite heart, centre, creator, and sustainer of the universe is born as a baby and lives as a human person on this earth and, through that, gives to us God’s power to save. We’ve domesticated the incarnation, but the real Christmas story staggers the mind. How’s this as a Christmas story?
Imagine the universe: Light travels at 186,000 miles per second. Hence light traveling to the earth from the moon (the body nearest our planet) already takes more than a second to get here. Light traveling from the sun takes more than 8 minutes to reach earth. But those bodies are close to us. The distance from the sun to the earth is immense but, in terms of the universe as a whole, it is minuscule. If one looks up at the starts at night, of those stars visible to the naked eye, the ones nearest to us are so far away that light traveling from them to earth (at 186,000 miles per second) takes more than 4 years to get here. Those which are farthest away, but still visible to the naked eye, are so distant that light traveling at 186,000 miles per second takes 800,000 years to get here. That’s unimaginable.
More incredulous still: Science today, using X-ray telescopes, has sighted planets whose light has not yet reached earth. These planets are so distant that light traveling from them to earth will take 6 trillion light years to get here. The human mind simply cannot stretch to imagine that. Yet this is just the universe we know. There may be in fact billions of galaxies and universes.
Imagine this story: Given that there are perhaps hundreds of billions of galaxies with trillions of light years separating them, and given that on each of the planets within these galaxies there are hundreds of trillions of phenomena every second, can we imagine that at the centre of all of this there is one heart, one creator, one sustainer, one God who made all of this and who right now watches over it so that every individual and every detail is passionately cared about, so that “no hair falls from a human head and no sparrow from the sky” without this God knowing and caring?
And most incredulous of all: Can we imagine and believe that this heart, this God, this centre of everything, actually was carried for nine months by a peasant woman in Palestine and born into our world as a baby and then lived here, taught us, and gave us, his believers, all the powers he, himself, had as God? What a wild belief! We should be singing songs and passing drinks around!
After John Shea has let the five-year-old Sharon tell the Christmas story, he notes her reaction and supplies an apt one-line commentary:
And she jumped in the air,
whirled around, dove into the sofa,
and buried her head under the cushion
which is the only proper response
to the good news of the incarnation.