It may not be a great idea for a preacher to tell a bed time story during worship. Some of you may already be on the verge of dozing off, and all you need is a few moments with a soothing voice to gently take you to the land of dreams. I’m not going to worry, though; this is a fine story, and if it is the last thing you hear before you go to sleep, so be it.
Little Nutbrown Hare was going to bed. He held on tight to Big Nutbrown Hare’s very long ears. He wanted to be sure that Big Nutbrown Hare was listening.
“Guess how much I love you”, he said.
“Oh, I don’t think I could guess that,” said Big Nutbrown Hare.
“This much,” said Little Nutbrown Hare, stretching out his arms as wide as they could go. Big Nutbrown Hare had even longer arms. “And I love you this much,” he said. Hmm, that is a lot, thought Little Nutbrown hare.
“I love you as high as I can reach,” said Little Nutbrown Hare.
“I love you as high as I can reach,” said Big Nutbrown Hare. That is very high, thought Little Nutbrown Hare. I wish I had arms like that.
Then Little Nutbrown Hare had a good idea. He tumbled upside down and reached up the tree trunk with his feet. “I love you all the way up to my toes,” he said.
“And I love you all the way up to your toes.” said Big Nutbrown Hare, picking him up by his paws and swinging him up over his head.
“I love you as high as I can hop!” laughed Little Nutbrown Hare, bouncing up and down.
“And I love you as high as I can hop,” smiled Big Nutbrown Hare – and he hopped so high that his ears touched the branches above. Thats good hopping, thought Little Nutbrown Hare. I wish I could hop like that.
“I love you all the way down the lane as far as the river,” cried Little Nutbrown Hare.
“I love you across the river and over the hills,” said Big Nutbrown Hare. That’s very far, thought Little Nutbrown Hare. He was almost too sleepy to think anymore. Then he looked beyond the thornbushes, out into the big dark night. Nothing could be farther than the sky.
“I love you right up to the moon,” he said, and closed his eyes.
“Oh, that’s far,” said Big Nutbrown Hare. “That is very, very far.” Big Nutbrown Hare settled Little Nutbrown Hare into his bed of leaves, leaned over and kissed him good night. Then he lay down close by and whispered with a smile, “I love you right up to the moon – and back.”
This is a wonderful story about being little and being loved. We read it to our children and grandchildren, and they know it’s about them and us – nobody needs to explain it to them. They know more about being little than we can remember, and they learn to love from being loved. We all do.
It doesn’t say in the story if Big Nutbrown Hare is Little Nutbrown Hare’s dad or grandpa or big brother, because it doesn’t really matter. Big Nutbrown Hare could be Little Nutbrown Hare’s mom or grandma or big sister or auntie. What matters is that every little one needs somebody big who loves them right up to the moon and back. Every little one needs somebody big who is there when they go to sleep and when they wake up. We all do.
We need somebody who’s there when we’re hungry or cold or frightened or proud of what we’ve done. Somebody who holds us when we need to be held and watches over us when we begin to move out into the world. Somebody who tells us the names of the animals and sings us to sleep. Somebody who hears us when we cry and comes to wipe the tears from our face.
Calin knows that. Calin is a little boy who is curious about many things; he asks great questions, and he gladly shares his observations about life. Calin says, “Everyone needs a mommy.” Everyone; there is no exception. People are different in so many ways, but this is something we all have in common. Everyone needs a mommy.
Everybody, of course, has a mother and a father, but that’s just simple biology. In order to thrive and flourish, though, and be fully alive, everyone needs to grow up under the loving gaze of a parent or, better yet, two, and aunts and uncles, grandparents and siblings and good friends and neighbors. Calin is little, but he can already imagine that life must be very, very hard for little ones without somebody big who loves them right up to the moon and back.
One day, just a few weeks ago, Calin had a big question. I don’t know when it came up. Was it after he had just finished brushing his teeth? Or was it in the car on the way to soccer practice? I imagine it came out of the blue after he had thought about it for a while: “Why doesn’t God have a mommy?”
Grown-ups know lots of things about God, simply because they’ve been around for a long time and have learned all kinds of interesting stuff and pondered deep questions. Grown-ups know that God is the very life of life, without end or beginning. Grown-ups know that God is the one mystery that is greater than all the mysteries of time and life. They know that God is the source and the ground and the goal of all things seen and unseen. Grown-ups know that God doesn’t need a mommy because God is not born, and God is never alone or hungry or afraid. Grown-ups walk along the edge of what words can express like artists on a tightrope, groping for words that will allow us to speak about God without putting God into a box.
Calin has picked up some of that time-tested knowledge, at home, in Sunday school, in worship – bold words about God – and he responds with what he knows. Mommy and Daddy were among the first words he learned because those names captured so much of his world. He knows how much he depends on them and their love for him, and he thinks about it, and – this is the most remarkable thing to me – he refuses to imagine a world where anyone would be without such loving attention and care. His question reflects more than curiosity about his world; it reflects kindness and compassion and the desire that everyone should receive what they need. Because we know Scripture and the testimony of generations, we know that Calin’s question is a godly one, one that reflects the will and character of God: Everyone needs somebody to love them right up to the moon and back.
Rather than give Calin one of the grown-up answers, we first need to tell him what a wonderful question he has asked; he knows in his heart the care and loving attention God has for all things great and small. Then perhaps we tell Calin that God is so great with love that even mom and dad, grandma and grandpa, and all grown-ups can be little ones with God, like one big family where everyone belongs and everyone receives what they need. And then we tell him and all our children that God knows very well what it’s like to have a mommy. We tell them the story of Jesus.
Jesus was as little and vulnerable as all of us are at birth. He didn’t grow up in a big, fancy house, but his mom and dad loved him. He climbed into their lap and loved listening to their heartbeat as much as any little boy or girl. They taught him to talk and walk, to sing and pray, and they told him bedtime stories. When he was sad or hurt, they comforted him. When he was sick, they sat next to his bed. And at least once a week, they made his favorite breakfast.
God is great with love, but God knows what it’s like to be little. God knows what it’s like to be hungry and thirsty and cold. God knows what it’s like to be sad and afraid and alone, but God is great with love.
One day, Jesus was the loneliest anyone would ever be. He carried all that frightens us; he carried all our meanness and hardness of heart and the loveless things we do to each other and to ourselves; he carried it all. And when he closed his eyes he didn’t smile. But God whispered, “I love you right up to the coldest and darkest place in the universe – and back.”
Because of Jesus God knows what it’s like to be little; because of Jesus we know just how great with love God is. Because of Jesus we know that nothing in life is more important than that we love each other well. So tell the story, sing the songs of love divine, all loves excelling, coming to make its humble dwelling in us; and have a merry Christmas, everyone!