NORMAN — Two terms that I associate with Christmas are “memories” and “stories.” These words belong together like toast and jelly.
The Christmas season is focused on the age-old story of baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph, shepherds, angels, wise men and the bright star. I think it’s one of the most beautiful stories ever.
Living as we do amidst a theological reformation challenging our churches today, we understand that this story is being refined by biblical scholarship and through multicultural enlightenment. For Christians, the biblical images will probably always remain because they are powerful. The storytellers who sculpted these words and shepherded them into the pages of scripture were brilliant thinkers and writers. They also were great people of faith. They provided us with an archetypal story which still speaks to us year after year.
The integration of Jesus’ birth, woven carefully into our own lives during the preparations of Advent affects us. If we’re fortunate (and attentive) these celebrations lived out through our lives may even turn into Christmas memories and more stories for the next generation to find inspiration in.
The older I get, the more concerned I am about the kind of stories and memories those in my own circle of care will inherit. This developmental process of “reflection” is normal as we age. Because Jesus taught about a God who loved all people it seems appropriate that we focus this developmental “concern” on not just our own lives but also on the collective life of our communities, nations, and even the world. It’s that kind of “memory and story” that concerns me most because that is the “collective” experience that will have the greatest impact, create the longest memory and place us “within” the salvation story.
Advent is a critical time in the celebration of the Christmas Story. Last Sunday, our liturgical focus was on the role of John the Baptist and his challenge to prepare the world for the coming of the savior. We sang the beautiful hymn “There’s a Voice in the Wilderness,” by J. Lewis Milligan. You may remember these words: “There’s a voice in the wilderness crying, a call from the ways untrod: Prepare in the desert a highway, a highway for our God.” The valleys shall be exalted, the lofty hills brought low: make straight all the crooked places where Emmanuel may go.” Advent/Christmas challenge us to join John the Baptist in preparing for the coming of the savior and to insert ourselves into the story Jesus inspired.
For me the central message of the Christmas story is that we are to live in peace and welcome the stranger. We are challenged to examine the way we live with ourselves, our families and friends, our neighbors and all we encounter. We are encouraged to enlarge our circle to include other nations, people of all races, cultures, sexual orientation, ages and creeds, and, in general, to appreciate and welcome diversity. We also are to live in peace with our planet earth. We are to care for it, love it, respect it and keep it healthy and nourished for the next generation.
The last verse of the above mentioned hymn has the words: “Then God shall be as a shepherd, the lambs gathered to God’s breast; and pastures of peace shall greet them, to give to the weary rest.” May we find ways to make this Advent and Christmas time a gift of peace to everyone.