What’s your part in the Nativity scene, the funky stable where this amazing story first took shape? Did you play Mary once, after winning a game of rock, paper, scissors with the other girls in Sunday school? Are you a reluctant, bewildered Joseph, or an awestruck shepherd? A well-traveled king from the East? Are you one of the quiet animals whose home was invaded on that cold night long ago when the inn was full” Are you the harried innkeeper?
Do you ever wonder how the reindeer and the jolly old man in the red suit ever made their way into the Nativity scene on your neighbor’s yard? How the fat guy over in the corner somehow became “round John Virgin?” Which reindeer was Olive, the other reindeer? And the little drummer boy; will someone please show him the door? Nice kid; sweet thought; but the baby is trying to sleep, and Mary has a headache already.
The story told in Luke’s Gospel – and the part about the wise men from the East, which appears in Matthew’s Gospel, and probably happened a long time after Jesus’ birth, long after the shepherds had gone back to work; this is the central visual myth of the Christian faith. (And I don’t use the word “myth” lightly; the word can mean “something that is eternally true even if it isn’t a fact”.)
Over the past two thousand years, this story has been told, re-told, added to; painted in varying and lovely detail, told in circles around smoky fires and warm stoves, or has warmed circles where there was no fire; it has been sung into timeless songs and carols. We enrich the story in part because that’s what people do with timeless stories; we also enrich it because, as the carol sings, “The hopes and fears of all the years are met…” in this story.
This story whose essential, radical message is this: God comes to us in humility. Real glory doesn’t wear robes or carry a spear. Real glory is in the warm, vulnerable tenderness of the way we love each other. And that baby, who keeps reminding us to get off our high horses and live new and world-changing lives of compassion.
We re-tell the basic story; we act it out each year, so we can remember its essence. Come see it, for the hundredth time, for the very first time. Sunday at 10 AM at the United Church of Craftsbury.
It changes everything.
Advent, Christmas, Sabbath blessings-
(And the little drummer boy, tomorrow at least, is otherwise occupied…)