Lately I have been spending time looking at Bibles for our children. We have a tradition of giving Bibles to first graders and fifth graders, and because of COVID we have not given Bibles to children for three years - we have some catching up to do. On December 11th we will give Bibles to 14 children!
It had been three years since I had ordered Bibles, and so I decided to investigate some choices. Choosing Bibles for children is more complicated than you would think. As Progressive Christians, we want our children to learn the stories of our faith, and we want them to learn these stories in a way that is developmentally sensitive. We are a people who know God best through stories - and the miracle of the Bible is that the stories are so old and so new and so layered and so full of the goodness and the darkness of human nature - that they are not the stories of dead people - the stories themselves are alive, and wherever we are in life we hear them differently. Most of us learn these stories when we are children, when we hear them as simple, literal facts. But the older we get, the less literal the stories become, and suddenly they are rich with truths and questions. I think the longer we live, the more these simple stories speak to the parts of life that break our hearts, and the parts that give us a deep meaningful joy. And the story of Jesus and the stories of Jesus shape our consciences and our imaginations and our hearts - if we let them.
So choosing a Bible for a child is important. We want our children to learn the stories in a way that leans away from literalism and towards mystery. For the first graders, I chose Bible called, "The Jesus Storybook: Every Story Whispers His Name" written by Sally Lloyd-Jones. I love this Bible because it is truly a storybook - telling both Old and New Testament stories with a goal of connecting all of the Bible to the life of Jesus. For the fifth graders, I found a new edition of a Bible we had gifted in the past, "The Illustrated Children's Bible" by Selina Hastings. This Bible is better suited for the older kids - the stories are set in a context of the geography, culture, and history of their time, with a helpful section about how the Bible came about. And we will give our youth a copy of Eugene Peterson's "The Message" as their first adult Bible when they are confirmed.
When I chose the "Jesus Storybook" Bible for the youngest children, I was moved by the words the author used to describe the beginning of the story of Jesus. Having set the context of the people of Israel and their long time waiting for a Messiah, Sally Lloyd-Jones uses this beautiful poetic language to teach of the moment when God came to earth in the baby Jesus.
He's Here. The Nativity, from Luke 1-2
Everything was ready, The moment God had been waiting for was here at last! God was coming to help his people, just as he promised in the beginning. But how would he come? What would he be like? What would he do?
Mountains would have bowed down. Seas would have roared. Trees would have clapped their hands. But the earth held its breath.
As silent as snow falling, he came in. And when no one was looking, in the darkness, he came.
I wish I could give each of you a "Jesus Storybook Bible" so you could hear the story of the birth of Jesus - told by a master story teller for a child hearing it for the first time. Those of us who are adults on the outside could perhaps experience God again for the very first time in the epic narrative of God's incarnation in a baby. Wouldn't that be a gift?