Christmas messages have come to me again this year as I spent time reflecting on the story that has directed and supported my life for 76 years. In my early years my parents introduced me to the Christmas story and church. Parents play an important role in what a child comes to believe. Not only by what they say but also what they do – how they model or live the Christmas story or the gospel story.
For most of my life as a Christian minister I asked the question, “What does the Christmas story mean to me this year?” I knew the story was not factual; but I knew it was true! So how do I share this story and make it come alive for people this year. I use Advent as a way of listening for the answer. It is my contemplative practice.
This year I used the prayer which I shared in my last blog that begins: “Now, O Lord, calm me into a quietness that heals and listens…” In the carol, O Little Town of Bethlehem, the words and music draw me into this prayer space of reflection and connection.
1. O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie.
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by;
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light.
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.
3. How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is giv’n!
So, God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of his heav’n.
No ear may hear his coming;
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him, still
The dear Christ enter in.
At a recent family gathering an anxious mother brought up the dilemma: What do we tell our children as they get older and want to know if Santa is real? Her dilemma was, Will they still be able to trust me when they discover I have lied to them for 10 years? This mother also put it in the context of a previous experience with her children’s discovery that the Tooth Fairy was not “real”. It was just their parents.
It has been a long time since I faced this question in my own life. I don’t remember having this same angst and I believe it is because I had a bigger story in our family life. And being a minister’s daughter, my daughter grew up in the life and excitement of the Biblical story through music, church parties, and pageants.
The gift of the question drew me into a reflection of how the Christmas story relates to our life and culture. What I saw again is that Santa may not be a factual person, but Santa is real. We want our children to experience the truth that life is a gift and gift giving is an expression of love that draws us together, out of ourselves and into relationships. When we do this well, we also give gifts to those in our extended family and even those who we do not know but who need our gifts. And this is like Jesus really. He might not be a factual person in that it happened exactly like the story says. But, in my experience, he is real in that his invitation to life, a life of love and connection to a bigger story and a bigger reality that feeds my life and gives my life meaning and direction, is true.
I was going to dismiss the Tooth Fairy as a fantasy, but then realized there is a truth in this story as well. When a child loses a tooth, some money shows up in exchange. It is magic and it is a mystery. And the truth is when we lose something or someone in our life the loss is real, yet there is a gift that shows up if we settle into the grief and meaning of change; there is a gift that helps us carry on. Again, my instructor here is Jesus.
The other main event in his life was his death on the cross. And again, it may not be a factual story, but it is a real story. It is so real that a religion shaped around this teaching that being committed to a life of love, even being passionate enough to die or suffer for what one believes, shows us a different way of living. Forgiveness is an essential part of this transformative and life-giving process. Letting go of the life we lose by embracing the life we have is often a painful and difficult task, but it is the way forward into a new reality.
There were other ways that I was able to share my voice about the meaning of gifts and how others are a gift to me. That is what made the Christmas story real for me again this year and enriched my life. And now I am on the cusp of a new year and am looking forward to the mystery and potential of what life will bring, even in the midst of dark clouds on the horizon in so many places around the world, including Alberta, and of personal challenges of growing older and losing abilities. I return to the message of a book I read last January, On the Brink of Everything, by Parker Palmer. No matter how old we get to be, life is not over, we still live on the brink of everything. There is still wonder and possibility, even when we cannot see it clearly yet. So, grab hold of someone you love and step into the new year.
I wish you many blessings for the 2020. A year I call The Year of Seeing Clearly Again – 20/20 Vision
To sign up for future blogs or to read past blogs look for the “follow” button on the upper right corner of the page. whatwasithinking.blog https://whatwasithinking.blog