One year my brother who is a magician (his website is here) gave me a magic trick that uses my ventriloquism. I have been trying to figure out how to incorporate it into, say, a children's sermon ever since. This year the approach I wanted to take with Christmas seemed to meld with this technique. Sorry, no video but here I am with my friend, Paddy.
ME: The story goes that the art teacher told the class of second graders that they could draw anything they wanted that day. Then she circulated among the kids, talking to them about their pictures. She came up to one little girl and asked her what she was drawing.
And the little girl said, “God.”
“Interesting,” said the teacher. “But nobody really knows what God looks like.”
“They will when I'm done,” said the little girl.
Of course, it is absurd that a little girl could draw a portrait of God. But what if a trained member of the clergy tried to do it? Let's see, shall we? I have a pad and pen here. So let's draw some eyes. And a mouth. (Show audience) A nose would be nice. (Show audience) God is older than any of us, older than the earth, so let's give him a white beard. And mustache. And what do you think? Is this what God looks like?
PADDY: I hope not.
ME: You talked!
PADDY: Well, I just felt I had to speak up for myself.
ME: For God?
PADDY: Heavens, no! I'm not God. I may be quite good looking but I'm not God.
ME: How do you know?
PADDY: No one has ever seen God. It says so in John 1:18.
ME: How do you know what's in the Bible? You were just drawn.
PADDY: I have friends in the printing industry.
ME: OK. But if no one has seen God, what about all those paintings in the Middle Ages and in the Renaissance?
PADDY: They're art. They're the products of imagination. No one takes them literally.
ME: Some might. Children.
PADDY: Children are smarter than you think. Children's books show the sun with a smiling face. Most children figure out that the real sun doesn't look like that.
PADDY: That does say something about people.
ME: What does that say about people?
PADDY: Draw a line connecting my eyes.
ME: You want me to draw a line connecting your eyes?
ME: O.K. (Does so) There. (Turns pad back toward audience)
PADDY: Look familiar? (I look at Paddy with my eyes to the right. So does he. I look left. So does he. I look right. So does he. Repeat.)
ME: You look like me!
ME: Oh my God! (Puts head down)
PADDY: Not even close.
ME: My picture of God looks like me.
PADDY: Most folks picture God that way. They picture his politics as their politics. They picture his attitude towards others as their attitude to others. They picture his standards of behavior as their standards of behavior.
ME: Wow, you're right. But we are made in God's image.
PADDY: But too often you make God in your image.
ME: True. Most illustrations of Jesus make him look like a white European than an Middle Eastern Jew.
PADDY: Does the Bible actually tell us what Jesus looked like? Does it tell us the color of his eyes or his hair or his skin? Does it tell us if he's short or tall?
ME: No, it doesn't. And I guess that's good.
PADDY: Uh-huh. And why is that?
ME: Because if we do tend to create God is our image, and we knew the color of Jesus' eyes or hair or skin or his height, some of us would be tempted to say “We look like God. We're superior to those of you who look different.”
PADDY: God knows we have enough of that!
ME: Yeah. Maybe that's why God's Word doesn't tell us. Still it would be nice to know what he's like.
PADDY: But we do know that. We know what he said. We know what he did.
PADDY: That that tells us more about him than a description of his face.
ME: That's right. He told people to love God and to love one another.
PADDY: And he showed it in his actions.
ME: He fed the poor.
PADDY: He healed them.
ME: He forgave them.
PADDY: He gave them the good news.
ME: That God is loving and forgiving.
PADDY: That God will set things right.
ME: That God will never leave us or forsake us.
PADDY: If we trust him.
ME: And follow him.
PADDY: Jesus is a very clear picture of what God is like.
ME: He is. And it's all there in the Bible.
PADDY: Which you can get in print.
ME: Or on the internet. Or on an app. For free.
PADDY: So we don't need a drawing.
ME: Well, not everybody will read the Bible. A picture is worth a thousand words. That's why when few people could actually read, churches put in stained glass windows. There you see Jesus in a manger and it shows you something about God's humility.
PADDY: You see Jesus forgiving the woman taken in adultery and it shows you that God is more interested in saving folks than in condemning them.
ME: You see Jesus healing someone or feeding the 5000 and it shows you that God cares about our physical well-being as well as our spiritual health.
PADDY: You see Jesus on the cross and it shows you that God loves us enough to die for us.
ME: That's true. Which is why I still wish I could present people with a picture of what God is like.
PADDY: But you can.
ME: How? Not with pen and paper, obviously.
PADDY: But with your life.
ME: (dawning on me) I can show the love of God I see in Jesus by what I do and say in my life.
PADDY: We all can.
ME: And isn't that what Christmas is all about: a demonstration of God's unimaginable love in terms we can see: in the life of a human being dedicated to him? Although in this case, he's the son of God.
PADDY: Who gives us the power to become children of God!
ME: You are so right. Thanks. You've helped me see God more clearly after all.
PADDY: Which is what Jesus did. In Jesus we see what God is like and what we, through him, can be.
ME: Thank you.
PADDY: De nada. (I close the pad) Ouch!
ME: (Opening the tablet) What?
PADDY: You hit my nose!
ME: Your nose is as flat as the page it's drawn on.
ME: (close tablet with exasperated noise)