Friday, December 01, 2006

Can't Tell a Book by Its Cover

Two Advent calendars. Similar in size, price, quality and theme. From the outside, they appear essentially equal. Which one would a child choose?

Answer: The bottom one.

Reason: Pictures.

See, the top one starts each day with a Bible verse, and while there's no arguing that there is some value in reading the Gospel according to Luke in 24 snippets of verse, it just doesn't have the same appeal as opening the little door and finding a little picture. Didn't have the same appeal to Andrew or to me when we were growing up, and things hadn't changed by the time Alex, Isaac and Elizabeth were opening the little doors. Sometimes you get a warning on the product packaging, sometimes you don't, and there you are on December 1 with a brand new Advent calendar and nothing to look forward to for the next 24 days except the Christmas story reduced to 24 rhyming couplets. Probably your brother lucked out, too, and got the calendar with pictures of toys and candy every day. Lucky him...

Remember Jane Eyre, and her first visit with Mr. Brocklehurst, the intimidating master of the Lowood School? Mr. Brocklehurst took some time to instruct young Jane in appreciation for the written word, especially for the words of the Bible by telling her about his young son who would choose a verse of the Psalms over a sweet cookie treat:

"And if you ask him whether he would have a gingerbread nut to eat or a verse of the Psalms to learn, he replies
'Oh, the verse of the Psalms! Angels sing psalms and I wish to be a little angel here below!'
and then he is rewarded with TWO gingerbread nuts in recompense for his infant piety."

Infant piety, my foot. There is clearly a kid who has learned to work the system.

Elizabeth learned to work the system when she was six years old, on Christmas Eve. She wandered through the hallway at 10:30 or so in the evening, ostensibly going in search of a drink of water and discovered Santa in the guise of Dave sitting on the living room floor assembling a set of dolly bunk beds. Being a child of considerable insight, she assessed the situation, deduced the Truth About Santa in a flash, and returned to bed without a drink of water.

Being also a child of considerable wisdom, she kept her discovery to herself for many years with the reasonable assumption that if she SAID she didn't believe in Santa, the toys and presents would stop coming. The whole truth was only divulged when she was about 20. By that time, there was no worry about "spoiling Santa" for her younger brothers and the Rite of the Christmas Stockings was firmly entrenched in the family holiday traditions, so she had nothing to lose anyway.

Pictures or verses? The verses might be good for the character, but pictures are good for the soul. That's one reason Christ came to us as who he is. Part God for our eternal welfare, but part Man for our day to day lives.

We don't have to work the system and make a choice. We get both, bundled together in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.

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