A fishy Christmas story
December 13 2002 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

A fishy Christmas story | Friday, Dec. 13, 2002

Friday, Dec. 13, 2002

A fishy Christmas story

By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor

The Christmas season abounds with stories, some true and some not, but most having some sort of inspirational theme. Movies like It's a Wonderful Life, television programs like A Charlie Brown Christmas and books like The Polar Express have all become an integral part of the holiday season.

I have a new entry on my list of favorites, but it's an unlikely Christmas story. David Stafford, pastor of Brunswick Islands Baptist Church, recently shared with his congregation a Christmas connection in an old story from Grimm's Fairy Tales.

The story is commonly called "The Fisherman and His Wife." It can be found in a variety of versions, but most have the same common elements.

There was a poor fisherman, the story goes, who lived with his wife in a filthy little shack near the sea. On a day when both the sea and the sky were clear, the fisherman caught only one fish, a large flounder that surprised him by speaking. The fish explained that he was no ordinary fish but an enchanted prince. He begged the fisherman to return him to the water. Despite his hunger and poverty, the fisherman let him swim away.

Any good feelings he might have had about the charitable deed were lost when he told his wife of the encounter. He should have asked the fish to grant a wish, she said, and insisted that the fisherman return to the sea and ask for a nice cottage to replace their tiny hovel.

Against his will, the fisherman walked back to the sea, which had turned greenish yellow, and called out to the flounder, explaining that his wife wanted a better life. The flounder surfaced and asked what his wife would have. When the fisherman explained that she wanted to live in a cottage, the flounder replied "Go then, she has it already."

The fisherman returned to find his wife sitting on a bench before a charming cottage fitted out with shiny new fixtures of brass and tin. She soon became dissatisfied, however, and demanded that her reluctant husband should call to the flounder again and ask for a mansion of stone.

The sea had turned purple and blue, but the flounder was surprisingly cooperative when the fisherman called to him and explained his wife's request for a more upscale abode. "Go then, she has it already," said the fish.

The fisherman returned home to greet his wife in a marble hallway with gilded walls and crystal chandeliers, but the next morning she was no longer smiling. "Look out the window," she said. "We could be king over this land!"

The poor fisherman had no craving to be king, but even less desire to cross his wife, so he went back to the sea, now dark gray and foul smelling. He called again to the fish, who sent him back to a palace.

One would think his mate would be satisfied, but that was too much to hope for. She soon decided that kingship had its shortcomings. She imposed on the fish to make her emperor over all the lands, and when that failed to satisfy, she insisted on becoming the pope.

With each new demand, the fisherman went with fear and trembling to an increasingly dark and turbulent sea, but the flounder continued granting his wishes until his house was transformed into a high-steepled church complex to rival the Vatican.

Even then, his wife found her earthly position unsatisfying. "Go to the fish again," she importuned, "and tell him I want to be like God!"

Fleeing the wrath of his wife, the fearful fisherman pressed through a growing tempest over a black and heaving sea to call once again to the flounder. "My wife wants to be like God," he said.

And the flounder calmly replied, "Go then, you'll find her back in the shack."

Moralists routinely portray the story as a commentary on the dangers of unbridled greed, but Stafford pointed out that there is more to the story: the flounder gave the wife exactly what she asked for.

"The willful wife wanted to be like God," Stafford said, "so the fish took her from a position of glory to a dirty shack. Sort of like Jesus left the glory of heaven for a dirty stable in Bethlehem.

"The fisherman's wife was closer to God's revelation of Himself in this world when she was in the shack than when she held a position of power and glory."

Properly understood, there is nothing wrong with wanting to be like God. Jesus called his followers to become more godly - and He showed them that the pathway to godliness is not a trail of power and glory, but of humility and service - a way of life that is more at home in a musty manger than in a sparkling palace.

And that's a story worth remembering this Christmas.

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12/13/2002 12:00:00 AM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments
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