Tuesday, December 11, 2012

This Christmas: The Elements

[Drafter's Note: Point A: I am officially terrible at discipline. Onward and upward. Point B: For the last two years, I've needed to spend a good chunk of November traveling for work, which has resulted in me coming back home to a changed place: pumpkins and the last of falling leaves are exchanged for Christmas decorations and, this year, a thin covering of snow. The lurch in time last year had me scrambling, and even weeks later I hadn't recovered. Christmas didn't feel like Christmas. So this year, I  prepared myself to come back to Advent season, and part of my plan was to be more reflective. Part of that plan was to blog about it. A later start than I'd hoped, and no promises as to how often I'll write, but I want to snag some thoughts and reflections for the next 13+ days about this holiday that can too easily become about stress and consumption. I choose promise and hope, even if I have to scrabble to find it.]

Setting up my nativity has been The Thing Which Determines It's Christmas since 1989 when my mom bought my brother and I each a ceramic set. There's nothing overtly special about it--your basic Mary-Joseph-Baby-Shepherd-Wise-Men-Sheep-Cow-Donkey setup--but it is mine, and as a child it was what set Christmas in motion. I'd strive to set it up better each year: first on the highboy, then on top of the television; one year the angel dangled precariously from a string fixed to the ceiling; the year I learned the wise men weren't present at the birth, they were removed to a nearby windowsill, en route. I think I like that these simple building blocks--a kneeling woman, a sleeping child, a shepherd with a sheep at his feet--come together to speak a story.

A few years ago I had one of my most memorable Bible study nights with a small group of teenage girls. We wrote out a list of everything we thought we remembered from the Christmas story, and then went to the biblical accounts, and talked about how we have fleshed them out. Sarah misspoke and said she remembered the wise men brought gold and incest, Hannah was scandalized when I implied that camels might not have been present at the birth, and we unpacked the story and put it back together again, each of us coming away with a new perspective. 

Since then, I've frequently found myself paring down the nativity to just the actual birth--a young woman, a faithful husband, and a newborn child that was only partly theirs. But as I've thought about it this year, I've found myself drawn to the other pieces, the other elements of this story. In looking for simple decorations to make, I saw an idea for three silhouettes on a wall--Mary, Joseph, and Jesus; the shepherds; the wise men. And the more I thought about it, the more that resonated. As with most great stories, this is not a single snapshot, but a collision of multiple storylines, not at one moment but as part of a greater plot. A faithful woman is chosen, a priest is struck mute, a man plans separation, a cousin celebrates, astronomers find a sign, the man makes a selfless choice, a census is ordered, a king schemes, an innkeeper refuses, angels sing, shepherds shudder, and a baby is born. The shepherds and astronomers find him, the king does not. This is a story about Jesus, but it is really a half dozen stories of dozens of people, all pointing toward but not neatly meeting at a cave of a stable in Bethlehem. Each individual had their story to tell; we just get a bird's-eye view.

A last piece that caught me a few days ago: the whole of Israel was waiting for a Messiah to rescue them and rule over the earth, but none knew to go looking to a homeless couple on the road. In listening to some Christmas standards the other night, I found myself feeling some of the frustration of Heaven--such a huge, history-changing moment, and nobody knew to come celebrate. And I wonder if that's why the shepherds got their invitation. Heaven had some major rejoicing to do, and so they took the party to a nearly-deserted field outside a small town in Roman-occupied Israel and scared the crap out of some shepherds. It was all they could do to keep it corralled even that much. They went to a few nobodies and sent them so that somebody, at least, could stand in witness and agreement as Mary and Joseph stared into Heaven's own eyes. It was a story too good not to share.

1 comment:

  1. We like this a lot. In fact, we read it aloud over dinner (over a U2 soundtrack, if you must know), with our own nativities and tree all smiling at us. (Point of observation: when one has just finished watching a season of In Plain Sight, it's difficult to avoid reading aloud in the cadence of Mary McCormack, or of any procedural/noir narration. But that just added another layer to the reading.) We love Advent, and you!