I must admit to a certain guilt
about stuffing the Holy Family into a box
In the aftermath of Christmas.
It’s frankly a time of personal triumph when,
each Advent’s eve, I free them (and the others)
from a year’s imprisonment
boxed in the dark of our basement.
(excerpt from Ann Weems’ poem, “Boxed”)
I admit I feel exactly like this poem… I feel a certain guilt when Christmas is over and the Holy Family, animals, shepherds, angels and magi get stuffed back in a box. It’s like saying, “OK, we’re done with you, in you go, time for us to move on.”
It’s been even worse the last few years because we haven’t had room to put up a nativity at all. Now that we’re in a bigger home, I can hardly wait to get them out again, but I’m waiting until the kids are home from college and we can do it together (I like to hang on to the illusion that they still care about that ritual).
The scripture about Mary being visited by the angel made me think about how our hearts need to be opened up to receive the Spirit of God. And I started wondering, if we could somehow release the characters of the nativity at Christmas time, might they somehow, in turn, release something in us that we forget about the rest of the year. What if we allowed the nativity to speak to us about their stories? What messages might they have for us?
This is a difficult sermon to summarize because what we did was to “unpack” our own nativity. There were six members of the congregation who agreed to help us see the story of Jesus’ birth in a new light by taking on one of the characters of the nativity and sharing their story. It was done mostly impromptu and was sometimes hilarious, sometimes somber and sometimes enlightening. The full video version can be watched by clicking here.
Our shepherd, Billy, spoke of being claustrophobic and asked to not be stuffed back in the box after Christmas was over. He shared how he was shocked by the angel, but trusted enough to go looking for the baby, which he knew was the right one because he could feel it in his heart. He shared the wonder and awe that he felt that night, and wanted us to feel that same wonder and awe.
The angel, who had some long convoluted name that I still can’t remember, was just bubbling over with excitement. It seems like she really loves her job spreading the good news, flitting around the world and singing in the sky. She hoped each of us would feel the same joy that filled her that night.
Sher-r-r-man the black sheep, admitted that he life wasn’t always easy because people assumed he was bad just because of his color. But when he saw the little baby named Jesus, he felt an unconditional love. He wanted to give love back to the child and so offered to help keep the baby warm. Sher-r-r-man hoped that we could all feel that unconditional love and learn to return it.
The donkey, Jack-lyn, traveled days with pregnant Mary on her back, and despite the long, boring journey, she was very patient and willing to help. She encouraged all of us to have the same patience and willingness to help people in need.
Poor Joseph shared with us some very personal struggles. He had a terrible condition which meant that no headdress would ever fit him right, he didn’t get married until later in life because he felt like no one ever really wanted him. When he was betrothed to Mary, he hoped that life would start to turn around and he’d get to be like all the other men with wives and children. But then he found out that Mary was pregnant, and it just wasn’t going to be easy for him again. But Mary and his faith helped to see him through. Joseph told us that if he could have faith, we could, too.
Mary talked about the fear she felt when the angel came to her. How would she explain this to her parents and her new husband? Why would God disgrace her like this? Eventually she decided to trust God and to see it through, but it took an extreme amount of courage. She told us that if she could have courage, so could we.
The baby Jesus obviously couldn’t speak, but even without words his message was one of hope. In fact, every child’s birth calls us to hope in the future and the myriad of possibilities that new life opens up. The world didn’t need anything more amazing to change the course of history than for a child to be born.
Perhaps, if we allow ourselves, we too could feel the immense hope the child Jesus brought. Because we, too, are a people and a time steeped in darkness and despair. We need that hope to get us through… hope that we aren’t alone, hope that there will be better days ahead, hope that someday we will know peace in the world.
Don’t forget the characters of the nativity and their messages. Instead of just going through the motions of presents and gatherings and church, let’s allow our souls to go deeper. Let us open our hearts with wonder and awe, joy, unconditional love, patience and helpfulness, faith, courage and hope.
Love & Light!