Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Christmas Story

A reflection on the readings for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day

A friend of mine is fond of telling a story about her life and then concluding with, “That’s my story and I’m sticking with it!”

The other night my husband, son, and I were watching the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, the version that came in 2000 with Jim Carry as the Grinch. Several times we remarked that they changed the story, a lot, in order to make a full length movie out of it. It is significantly different from the version I saw as a child. Then our son said, this is the only version of the story he remembers. Same story, two versions…

Tom Satre told the following story to the Sitka (Alaska) Gazette: he was out with a charter group on his 62 foot fishing vessel when four juvenile black-tailed deer swam directly toward his boat. “Once the deer reached the boat,’ he said, ‘ the four began to circle the boat, looking directly at us. We could tell right away that the young bucks were distressed.

I opened up my back gate and we helped the typically skittish and absolutely wild animals onto the boat. In all my years fishing, I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

Once on board, the deer collapsed with exhausting, shivering. We headed for Taku Harbour. Once we reached the dock the first buck we had pulled from the water hopped onto the dock, looked back as if to say, ‘Thank-you,’ and disappeared into the forest.

After some prodding and assistance, two more followed, but the smallest deer needed a bit more help. (for which he was put into a wheel barrow and transported from the boat to the dock).

Finally, with the help of three humans, the last buck got to its feet and ran off to join the others. …”

This true story appeared on Facebook last week with a link to some amazing photos that accompany the story.

In response, other people shared similar stories of animal and human interactions that break open our expectations of the normal way that humans and animals interact. The beauty of these stories is that they remind us that there is a thin line between creation, human beings, and the God who created all of us. And sometimes that line dissolves and we see the world as God might see it. A world called to live in harmony and peace, with grateful hearts for all the blessings and gifts of life.

On this most holy of nights/days we celebrate the reality that God is with us. In the mystery that is God, God has chosen to dwell in and within all creation, and most particularly in human life. This is our Christian story, of God active in the world through the birth of Jesus. It is story that reminds us that how we live our lives reveals the fullness of God in the world – particularly when we live with compassion, kindness, gentleness, and love toward all.

The Christmas story in our culture, of Santa, and presents under the tree, looks very different from the story we hear tonight. No doubt the culture Christmas is fun, and good for the economy, but we diminish the true Christmas story when we place too great an emphasis on Black Friday and record breaking holiday sales.

I have had Christmas’s when I could not afford to buy a single gift. I know what it feels like when the Christmas I am celebrating is not the Christmas our culture describes. Radio, television, newspapers, grocery stores and shopping malls try to tell us that our greatest joy is found through purchasing, wrapping, and opening presents. Truth be told, I like to shop as much as anyone, and I enjoy giving and receiving presents. So, the year we couldn’t buy gifts challenged me to explore the meaning of Christmas while overcoming depression and sorrow over the circumstances of life, and make my peace with it.

The true gift of Christmas cannot be placed into a box and wrapped with paper and ribbon and bows. In that regard, both versions of the Grinch, tell that part of the story. That Christmas is found in the heart.

And, as Christians, the true gift of Christmas is made manifest in the one whose life we celebrate, the one who comes as the fullness of God’s love, to walk with us through this journey of life. To be with us in our joys and our sorrows, to be ever present in our life story.

Even when life is at its most challenging, whether we are crazy busy, or feeling bleak and hopeless, or excited, or bored, or whatever life feels like - we can, with a little intentionality, recognize the gift of life and the presence of God’s abiding love for us in every aspect of the Christmas story. It’s true that often God’s abiding love for us is made manifest in a simple act of kindness that you extend to someone, or they extend to you.

Into the darkness of a winter’s night, God gave all creation God’s most precious gift of love, Emmanuel – God with us, the Incarnation, the birth of Christ. The mystery of the Christmas story, of that precious gift of love, is a paradox – for the dark night is the source and the place of new life, of love, of God manifesting the fullness of God’s self into the world, as a humble, vulnerable, human baby.

In this Christmas season, let the compassion of God fill you with hope. May you recognize, in your life’s story, the gift of how deeply God loves you, just the way you are.

That’s my Christmas story, and I’m sticking with it.

Merry Christmas.

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