Saturday, December 7, 2013

Advent 2013


I am quite fond of a number of "traditions" that have graced my years, some of which I initiated.  More than 30 years ago I began serving pancakes every Sunday morning to anyone in our household who was interested.  As the pastor of a small county-seat congregation on the Chesapeake Bay I introduced the observance of Advent and was touched by the gift from my mother of a magnificent brass Advent wreath for the congregation.

The most memorable tradition, however, centers on a children's sermon that I gave every year on the Sunday preceding Christmas.  Over a period of twelve years, children would sit with me on the floor of our sanctuary as I told the story of Barrington Bunny. 

Taken from Martin Bell's book, The Way of the Wolf:  The Gospel in New Images, it is a story about a small, flop-eared bunny who lived all alone in the forest.  At winter time when all of the other animal families were celebrating, Barrington became convinced that he had no worth whatsoever.  A mysterious silver wolf with flaming eyes and a soft voice reminded Barrington that he was a member of all of the families of the forest, that he was fuzzy and warm, he could hop, and was very valuable.  At the moment that did not seem like much comfort to Barrington, but on a cold and snowy Christmas Eve Barrington heard the small squeaking voice of a tiny field mouse lost in the snow.  Reassuring him, Barrington hopped through the deep snow, covered the tiny mouse with his furry body, and fell asleep.  The next morning the field mouse's family found their lost one beneath the lifeless body of a small bunny.  They rejoiced in finding their lost child and wondered about the gift of a life that had been given.  All through the rest of that day a large silver wolf with fiery eyes and a gentle voice stood guard over the bunny.

I never failed to weep while telling the story and, quite frankly, the congregation came to expect it.  My last Sunday as pastor of that congregation was the day before Christmas.  My retirement had been announced long before and I was leaving following that worship service.  When I asked the children to join me for the children's sermon I was surprised to see that even those who were now young adults off in colleges gathered there on the floor with me to hear, once again, the touching little story of Barrington Bunny.  Since that time several have commented that it just didn't seem like Christmas without Barrington Bunny.

The simple message is still profound.  Regardless of our differences, regardless of the efforts that are made to determine what requirements are necessary to "belong" to any group, we are all members of the families of earth.  Each has value and meaning, and each of us may know that mysterious Spirit that is never far away.

- Charlie Benton


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