Bible study lesson 16—A Christmas Reflection
by Reta Halteman Finger
In this final week of Advent, we will postpone the rest of John 6 until the New Year. Instead, I would refer you back to my 2012 Christmas lesson, a retelling of the Luke and Matthew accounts of Jesus’ birth without the romanticized traditions encrusted on our crèches and pageants. Hint: look for a stone manger, without stable, inn, or innkeeper.
That lesson is more to the point than the theological leap I’m taking in the story below—but the latter is prompted by imagery in the Gospel of John. Here, the Word from the beginning—the personification of Wisdom/Sophia—was made human and lived fully within human culture (John 1:14). Many of you will just laugh at this (admittedly partial) analogy from a nature show on public television, and you may think I’m a little nutty. So far that’s happened to all the friends I’ve told, except my agnostic neighbor who had also seen the show, and exclaimed, “That’s the LAST thing that would have occurred to me!”
I’m referring to an episode of the PBS program, Nature, that I watched the evening before Thanksgiving. It tells a story about a naturalist who tried a new experiment. It was called,
“My Life as a Turkey: Sketches from the Flatwoods.”
In 1991 Joe Hutto, a naturalist and wildlife artist, published an illustrated book recounting the year he became Mom to 16 wild turkey chicks. Recently it was replicated by an actor, Jeff Palmer (with Joe Hutto narrating), and videotaped for the Nature series on PBS. I was hooked!
In a Florida woodland, Hutto was given eggs from two wild turkey nests to incubate and “talk turkey” to them as they developed. Even inside the eggs, he could hear them responding to his voice. In the show, we watch the first egg crack open and a wet, bewildered chick struggle out. As soon as Joe starts talking to it, it drags itself toward him. He picks it up and it peacefully goes to sleep against his cheek. That’s when he knows this experience will be emotional as well as a science experiment. He is becoming a mother.
The first creature a chick sees and hears as it hatches is imprinted in its mind as its mother. For a whole year, Hutto lived in a small hut in the woods and saw no one but his feathered family. Everywhere he went, they went. His goal was to stay on their level and think and live like a wild turkey.
Hutto was amazed at how much the chicks—later called poults—instinctively knew, such as what to eat and which snakes to fear. They ran from rat snakes, but walked nonchalantly past rattlers, who apparently don’t like turkey meat. They lived utterly and totally in the present, without any thought of past or future. What could he teach them? The one thing a Mama Turkey might know better than the poults was the lay of the land. He took them to the pond to drink and then to some open pasture where they gobbled up grasshoppers with lightning speed. Hutto even bit into one himself! For the rest of this beautiful and touching story, go to this link.
You can also watch a video of the entire program here.
Spiritual reflections on turkeys
“So where’s your theology of turkeys?” someone asked me. “Well,” I said, “in a word, it’s ‘incarnation.’ A human becomes a turkey. A man becomes a mother.” Just so, in the Gospel of John, God becomes human. Mother Jesus takes care of her children. Is it not a profound and wondrous thing that a sentient being should so divest itself of its own nature in order to enter into the lives of a different species?
Perhaps one reason I find this analogy meaningful is because I relate to Jesus more as a human and less as a divine figure whose feet rarely touch the ground. Becoming flesh is the point of “Immanuel—God with us.” Too often Christians see primarily the inaccessible divinity of Jesus, and thus cannot follow him in life. As a result, they miss the point of the downward thrust of Incarnation.
The Peaceable Kin-dom
Later, when I went to the website to find out more about Joe Hutto’s descent into maternal turkeyhood, I read an interview where he was asked if he had always been an animal lover. Oh, yes! As a boy, his parents had tolerated his passion, laid down a linoleum floor in his bedroom, and the rule was: “any critter is OK, as long as it stays in the bedroom or outside, it must be well fed and clean, and absolutely no poisonous snakes inside the house!” He goes on to explain further: “I rarely kept my animals in cages and almost all slept with me in the bed. The list was endless. Big, small, mammal, bird or reptile. At one point I had a small bobcat, a gray squirrel, and a 7-foot boa constrictor, all living in perfect harmony.”
Was it a coincidence that a scripture reading in our Advent worship service the same day I read the above quotation was this?
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
The leopard shall lie down with the kid,
The calf and the lion and the fatling together,
And a little child shall lead them (Isaiah 11:6).
Question for discussion:
1. Is this analogy as crazy as some people think it is?
2. How have you been touched by Incarnation
In 2012 Reta posted another special Christmas reflection that you might be interested in reading. The Christmas Story—When Tradition Trumps Text
This analogy is powerful, Reta! Thank you for this beautiful story that brings new meaning to the incarnation. I kept thinking also of Jesus’ self-reference as a Mother Hen in Matthew’s Gospel. I was once accused of having a “bird theology” because of my frequent use of “Mother Hen” and “Mother Eagle.”
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