Faith Beyond the Flannelgraph

by Kelli Kinney (originally published December 2015)

Flannelgraph boards found their way into my childhood at an early age. Each week they would appear, adorned with a different story told by my Sunday school teacher. When the story was finished (or the flannel people stopped cooperating in sticking any longer), the teacher would fold up the board and put it away, only to be brought out anew the following Sunday.

My little heart understood just a fraction of what these Biblical stories were actually like. Just like the flannel board, with its flannel people, the stories I was absorbing each week were two-dimensional. How does one grasp the enormity of the almighty Son of God coming as a vulnerable baby or the King of Kings born to a mother who’s a virgin? These are difficult , life-altering truths that take faith beyond the flannel board to understand.

“Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign: Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”-Isaiah 7:14 (KJV)

Take young, early-adolescent Mary. It was foretold by the prophet Isaiah 700 years before it came to pass that she would find herself pregnant with a child that was not her sweetheart Joseph’s seed. She faced a certain death in her culture for getting pregnant outside of the covenant of marriage to the one she was promised to. The emotion and gravity of this decision is not something portrayed well with flannel people.

Mary’s struggle was very real.

In a moment her world changed forever. The angel Gabriel, sent by God, showed up at Mary’s doorstep and told her the amazing news:

“The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” – Luke 1:28-36 (NIV)

She would carry the Savior of the world in her womb. This moment would be an example as one of the biggest steps of faith ever taken. If Mary said “yes” to God, she would risk it all: Her reputation, her family, her engagement. All that she held close would come into jeopardy.

Faith is spelled R-I-S-K.

She chose to risk it all and say “yes” to a God she could not see. In my mind’s eye, the flannel graph Mary fell off the soft, safe, flannel board and hit the ground, transforming into a girl just like you and me. By God’s design,  the trajectory of her life was for greatness--just like you and me. For you see, just like Mary was called to carry Jesus, whose name means “Emmanuel, God with us” in her womb over 2,000 years ago, we are called to carry that same Immanuel in our hearts everyday. It is also a faith step for us to venture into the unknown world with Jesus. But just like Mary did, we can trust that God has our best in mind when we say “yes” to Him. No matter where we find ourselves today, Jesus is still Emmanuel: God with us.

Dear Heavenly Father, I pray that in this season of celebrating your Son’s birth, may we find ourselves humbled at your feet, willing servants like Mary, saying “yes” to all you have called us to. Even if it looks like a great big risk, may we take that faith step towards you today and trust that you are indeed “God with us,” never leaving us or forsaking us. May our view of your Word be more than a two-dimensional flannelgraph story. You are all we need. Thank you for sending your only Son as the Savior of the world to redeem us, and bring us back to you. We love you. Amen.