You may have heard me tell this story before.
Linda was returning home from a children’s Christmas party at church, with our son Matt, who was just barely 3. He was sulking angrily in his car seat and refusing to talk. Just arms crossed, frowning. There’d been singing, storytelling, Christmas cheer and more! But for most of the party, Matthew just wandered around the room looking for something. At one point, he’d wandered down the hall into other rooms. And someone had to go find him.
“Matthew, didn’t you enjoy the party?” Linda asked sweetly.
“What’s the matter, Son?”
“Didn’t you have a good time?” Linda asked more encouragingly.
“No!” he snapped back.
“No? Why not?”
“He didn’t come!” Matthew grunted.
“Who didn’t come?” she asked.
“Jesus! It was Jesus’ birthday party and he wasn’t even there!”
Linda said she had to contain herself a moment to hide her laughter. But she tried to be encouraging. I told her if I’d been there I’d have thought about the various ways I might explain a theology of incarnation to a 3 year old, precocious as I might believe he might be. She reminded me that each of them would have only carried misunderstandings requiring further explanation (“Son, Jesus is not really physical like we are. He doesn’t have a body, as such. He’s Spirit.” This would no doubt have kept us all up dealing with nightmares of a ghostly Jesus. Or I could have tried, “Jesus is really busy these days and has to be a lot of places at once.” That’d probably just encourage an already too prevalent Santa/Jesus crossover where Jesus is the one carrying a big bag and a “Naughty-Nice List”.) Clearly I was out of my league.
Linda had told him, “We remember and celebrate Jesus’ birthday at Christmas as a reminder that God loves us and came into the world in the form of the baby Jesus.”
Matthew got a little defensive and shouted, “He still should be there.‘Cause he’s the king! And he calls for his pipe and he calls for his bowl and he calls for his fiddlers three!”
There’s no way around it. Christmas can be as confusing as it is exciting — whether you’re three or fifty-three. It’s bound to get mixed up with all sorts of secular nursery rhymes, consumer traditions and strange beliefs on all sides.
And yet, it is this very improbable, incredible side of it that makes Christmas, the Nativity, so compelling, I think. Madeleine L’Engle wrote,
“This is the irrational season
When love blooms bright and wild.
Had Mary been filled with reason,
There’d have been no room for the child.”
This is the irrational season. In the midst of our holiday traditions and our Black Fridays, Cyber Mondays and Giving Tuesdays; in the inescapable trauma of another mass shooting in our country this week and terror all around the world; in spite of the presence of frustration, fear and our own daily challenges, this Nativity reminds us of a love and hope somehow still present at the very heart of life. This Nativity compels us to find and see and reflect on love and hope in the world. Nativity — God’s love and presence given in the world, inviting passionate hope and deep participation.
Perhaps even more irrational in the midst of the oppression and fear and frustration of her own time is Mary’s response – not simply an humble, “Okay, if that’s what God wants. I’ll do it.” Hers is a curious and profound, “Yes!”. What does Mary do when love comes surprisingly in the midst of this complex, uninspired world? She says a very rational, clear-headed, “Watch this!”
This Sunday, in eleven:eleven celebration…
A Nativity Seen:
Mary — Passion in the Irrational Season
11:00 am Special Prelude Music
Dace Sultanov, Cello and Hillary Hummel, Harp
And the music of Sarah McLaughlin and John Lennon
featuring guest vocalist, Lisa Slaughter Stoval
and the eleven:eleven revolution band!
Come early for the special Christmas prelude music!