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!”
A few years ago my husband, son, and I were watching the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, the version that came in 2000 with Jim Carry as the Grinch. I remember thinking that they’d changed the story, a lot, in order to make a full length movie out of it. It was 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…
Christmas also has two stories, two versions. We have the commercial one with Santa and parties, shopping and sales, and gift giving, and advertisements announcing that this is the most wonderful time of the year. Although it’s not for everyone.
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. That year challenged me to explore the meaning of Christmas while overcoming depression and sorrow over the circumstances of life, and make my peace with it.
That year I leaned into the original Christmas story. We went to church on Christmas Eve and I immersed myself in the mystery of God’s love revealed in music, prayer, and story. The story that tells us about the birth of Jesus, of a woman brave enough to work with God, to take huge risks to bear a child and bring God’s love into the world in human flesh. Of a God who loves creation, loves human kind so much that God joins with us in our sorrows and our joys, and works with us to care for the world.
A few years ago an amazing story appeared in an Alaska newspaper. A man named Tom 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 exhaustion, shivering. We headed for the harbor. When 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. …”
The beauty of stories like this 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. A world in which the true Christmas story merges with the commercial one, and we see the many gifts of life with which we’ve been blessed.
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 Christmas 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 true gift of Christmas cannot be placed into a box and wrapped with paper and ribbon and bows. The truest versions of the story remind us that the meaning of 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 - somehow, by the grace of God revealed in the simplest of ways, we can experience the gift of life and the presence of God’s abiding love for us. 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. The meaning of Christmas is God’s love revealed in the world in and through human beings, in the kindness and love we show for others, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, tending the sick, caring for all people.
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 darkest night is also the source and the place of new life, of love, of God manifesting the fullness of God’s self into the world.
In this Christmas season, let the compassion of God fill us with hope. May we recognize, in our life’s story, the gift of how deeply God loves us, just the way we are. And may we love others with that same generous gift of love.
That’s my Christmas story, and I’m sticking with it.