An Advent Narrative

As we prepare again to hear the message of Christmas, perhaps you might appreciate excerpts from Walter Wangerin Jr’s short story, “An Advent Narrative,” which imagines God contemplating how to reach out to his child (humanity) and restore her.

    I love a child
    But she is afraid of me.

I want to help this child so terribly in need of help. For she is hungry; her cheeks sunken to the bone; but she knows little of food, less of nutrition. I know both these things. She is cold and she is dirty; she lives at the end of a tattered hallway, three flights up in a tenement whose landlord long ago forgot the human bodies huddled in that place. But I know how to build a fire; and I know how to wash a face.

    I love a child.
    But she is afraid of me.

Then how can I come to her? To feed and heal her by my love?

    Knock on the door? Enter the common way?

No. She holds her breath at a gentle tap, pretending that she is not home; she feels unworthy of polite society. And loud, imperious banging would only send her into shivering tears, for police and bill collectors have troubled her in the past. And should I break down the door? Or should I show my face at the window? Oh, what terrors I’d cause then. She would not receive my love, but might likely die of a broken heart. I’ve called from the hall. I’ve sung her name through cracks in the plaster. But I have a bright trumpet of a voice, and she covers her ears and weeps. She thinks that each word is an accusation. I could, of course, ignore the doors and walls and windows, simply appearing before her as I am. I have that capability. But she hasn’t the strength to see it and would die. She is, you see, her own deepest hiding place, and fear and death are the truest doors against me.

Then what is left? How can I come to my beloved? Where’s the entrance that will not frighten or kill her? By what door, can love arrive after all, truly to nurture her, to take the loneliness away, to make her beautiful, as lovely as my moon at night, my sun come morning.

    I know what I will do.

I’ll make the woman herself my door — and by her body enter in her life. How could she ever be afraid of her own flesh, of something lowly beneath her ribs? I’ll be the baby waking in her womb. She’ll have the time this way to know my coming first before I come. Time to get ready, to touch her tummy, touching the promise alone, as it were. When she hangs her head, she shall be looking at me, thinking of me, loving me while I gather in the deepest place of her being. And then, when I come, my voice shall be so dear to her. It shall call the tenderness out of her soul and loveliness into her face. And when I take milk at her breast, she’ll sigh and sing another song, a sweet Magnificat, for she shall feel important then, and worthy, seeing that another life depends on hers. My need shall make her rich!

Then what of her loneliness? Gone. Gone in the bond between us, though I shall not have said a word yet. And for my sake she shall wash her face, for she shall have reason then. And the sins that she suffered, the hurts at the hands of men, shall be transfigured by my being: I make good come out of evil; I am the good come out of evil.

I am her Lord, who loves this woman. And for a while I’ll let her mother me. But then I’ll grow. And I will take my trumpet voice again, which once would have killed her. And I’ll take her, too, into my arms. And out of that little room, that filthy tenement, I’ll bear my mother, my child, alive forever.

    I love a child.

    But she will not fear me for long, now.

    Look! Look, it is almost happening. I am doing a new thing — and don’t you perceive it?

    I am coming among you a baby.

    And my name shall be Emmanuel.

-Joe Welty

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