This is the first week of Advent and Christians everywhere are beginning to make their preparations for the season. A gift list needs to be made. Cards must be selected and sent. Favorite traditions are reviewed along with plans for repeating them. Special gatherings are announced and festivities are planned. It’s a busy and demanding time of year, yet all but a few who suffer from seasonal crankiness are diving in and enjoying themselves nonetheless. All the extra efforts we expend to make Christmas preparations meaningful for ourselves and our loved ones just seem worth it, don’t they? In fact, the preparations themselves seem to heighten our appreciation for the season and for what we are celebrating. When we make an extra visit, bake one more batch of cookies, place that additional phone call, or purchase that special gift for a child, we seem to have honored the spirit of the holiday just a little more fully.
In recent years it’s been increasingly common to see bumper stickers reminding us to “Remember the reason for the season.” And that’s good advice. It’s certainly possible to get caught up in the commercialism attached to Christmas or the sometimes frivolous activities it engenders and forget its deeper meaning. But we think we’re generally on fairly safe ground. Although it’s true that even the most devout among us and the most devoted Christmas revelers are sometimes fuzzy about the specifics of the story we treasure, the underlying seriousness of what we claim as Christians somehow usually still shines through.
This was never clearer than when we were treated to a little video made by the Portland Christian Center and their Hilltop Preschool and Kindergarten. The video shows the young children of the school as they thoughtfully respond to a series of questions about the Christmas story… Who was Jesus’ mother? Who was Mary’s husband? How did they get to Bethlehem? How did the shepherds find the stable? Who else came to see baby Jesus? Those and other questions elicited answers from the little ones that included a surprising list of characters most of us would not identify as part of the traditional story.
The children suggested that participants in that first Christmas included Noah, Adam, fairies, and the Three Amigos.They claimed rattles and baby food were gifts offered the child. The Holy Family was said to have arrived in Bethlehem on horseback or on camels. Clearly, the way the children told the story was inaccurate in its Biblical details. And yet, watching their faces and hearing the wonderment in their young voices convinced us that they nevertheless understood the significance of the story. There was an innocent awe reflected in their answers to questions they only dimly grasped.
And maybe we have something in common with those children. As Christmas rolls around year after year, we’ve come to recognize that our grasp of the story may be limited, too. How we can ever truly convey the wonder of what happened that night when a birth gave the world Immanuel, God With Us? Our innocent awe may be the truest indication we have begun to understand the story.