By Pastor Paula Burchill
Last week, the Ladies Night Out group at SLC watched the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Which is about Mr. Rogers. It was a lovely movie about a man who loved and advocated for children his whole life-taking them seriously and really talking to them when most people talked down to them or believed children were to be seen and not heard. I grew up watching Mr. Rogers and watching the documentary reminded me of how slow and deliberate and very sweet and caring he truly was.
When I got home that night, my son asked where I was and after I told him he said, “I heard he only talked to kids if he was down at their level.” Yes! That was exactly Mr. Rogers, and leave it to a kid to point that out to me. I was so glad my son said that because while I picked up on how he always talked to kids, the fact that he really did crouch down to look each child in the eye hadn’t really registered. But it was so true.
We are getting close to the end of the church year, which means Advent will soon be upon us. Advent is the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, and the time we prepare for the coming of Jesus. The word for Jesus’ coming at Christmas is incarnation. Which to put in Mr. Rogers speak, is God getting down to our level.
It isn’t that we believe God didn’t care about humans. It’s just that God tried reaching us through kings and prophets, through burning bushes and a voice on a mountain. But none of those ways really got us to listen. We kept going our own way. Finding our own gods. So God decided God would need to come himself. As one of us. So he became a baby, born in a barn, laid in a cradle of hay.
In the book of Hebrews, chapter 4 we are told that we don’t have a God who is off somewhere in heaven, but rather we have a God who totally understands our weakness because he became weak like us. He got down to our level so that we would know God is there for us no matter what and we can talk to God and receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need [Hebrews 4:16]
Watching that documentary was pretty amazing, especially when it was contrasted with other kids programming of the day. Other shows were silly or violent, but Mr. Rogers tirelessly advocated for talking to kids about real life. He was not afraid to bring up divorce, assassination, death, disease, racism, disabilities. He knew that kids were thinking about them anyway and what kids need is for the adults in their lives to reassure them that they are safe and that they are not alone.
In the incarnation, Jesus came to make us safe and to remind us that we are never alone. One of the names for Jesus is Emmanuel, which means “God with us.” This is a hard world and there are new and harder things to worry about every day. But what a joy that we have a God who is right here at our level. Ready to listen. Ready to respond. Ready to be there for us through each other as we make our way. Mr. Rogers never pretended the world wasn’t a scary place and neither does God. But no matter what, we don’t go through life alone. That was the message of Pastor Rogers and that is the gift of our faith.
Incarnation—God at my level and God at yours!