In their book The First Christmas, Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan describe the Christmas stories in Matthew and Luke as “overture,” setting the stage for what is to follow. The Gospel of Matthew is an overture to the parallel between Jesus and Moses. In Luke, there is a greater emphasis on women, the marginalized and the Holy Spirit.
Each of us faces many new beginnings and can discover in our Christmas stories the inspiration for renewed commitments.
In my case, we are one of those families who have written a family letter — a brief Christmas story to far-flung friends — for almost 30 years. This has evolved into a kind of spiritual practice as each year we have listened to what’s happening in our lives and have often sought Scripture or a carol, poem or story to bring fresh perspective to our understanding of Christmas in the light of constantly changing circumstances.
A few years ago, during our last Christmas together in the home that we shared as parents and children, we pulled out our collection of annual Christmas stories and read them aloud at the kitchen table. Tears of joy and sadness welled up as we reviewed our stories — stories of joy, of grief, of wondering, often in the midst of conflict, as are the Gospel stories of Christmas. Our Christmas stories really were an annual overture to renewed understanding of our journey of faith, year by year.
In 1985, at a time when we were focused on the spiritual nurture of our children, we overheard our then four-year-old son explaining the front-room crèche to a visitor: “That’s when God started making Jesus.” This seemed an apt overture to a year of considering how God hasn’t stopped making Jesus, of how Spirit continues to move among us.
In 1991, we were feeling the grief of my father’s death and wrote, “Grief has many faces in Canada this year. For some of us, it has come through the death of a loved one; for others, it arrives in the loss of a job or relationship. And we’re all facing the death of our illusions of Canada as a tolerant, just, compassionate model nation.” I don’t precisely remember what events led us to that last statement of grief (political passions rise quickly and cool almost as fast), but it served as an overture to renew our commitments to social justice and compassion.
Christmas 2006 saw another son serving as a volunteer in Kibera, an impoverished area outside Nairobi, Kenya. As we wrote that year’s letter, we found ourselves quoting Bill McKibben from Hundred Dollar Holiday: The Case for a More Joyful Christmas. “There is no ideal Christmas, only the Christmas you decide to make as a reflection of your values, desires, affections, traditions.” That was the year we replaced material gift-giving with charitable giving and other more joyful endeavours.
And now this year, as I write, preparations are under way for me to attend the United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen, as part of the World Council of Churches delegation. There, assembled faith leaders will attempt to add the weight and wisdom of Spirit to the insights of science in order to marshal the political will for a new beginning with creation.
The first Christmas marked a new beginning when God sent Jesus to demonstrate God’s love for the world. Can we listen to that Christmas story again as an overture to our own commitment to participate anew in God’s love for creation? As humanity, we must acknowledge both that we are part of God’s creation and that we wield the power to destroy much of the rest. How will we turn away from fear and give birth to hope this Christmas?
I turn to the words of our United Church’s Song of Faith:
Divine creation does not cease
until all things have found wholeness, union, and integration
with the common ground of all being.
As children of the Timeless One,
our time-bound lives will find completion
in the all-embracing Creator.
In the meantime, we embrace the present,
embodying hope, loving our enemies,
caring for the earth,
My heart beats with Mary’s this year, wondering how life will be born again as it was born so long ago. And how is Christmas playing as overture in you?
Keep it free!
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