Tuesday, 23 December 2008
The Christmas Story
“This something to celebrate God's life. There's a red ribbon to celebrate the blood of God. The orange on this is for the world. The candle is to celebrate Jesus' birthday. The little sultanas are to celebrate the things that we have got to have that God gave us. But I made it at my school. I'm learning 'RE' right now. RE is when we talk about Jesus.”
As told by Bridger Anderberg (6) about his Christingle (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christingle) and documented by his beautiful mother.
There are lots of versions of the Christmas Story - just like any story - ask my friends who "sasquatch" is and you'll get a many, and varied assortment of stories. Ask them just how long one should boil corn at altitude, and you'll get a whole lot more than cooking instructions...
Luke chapter 2 will forever be "The Christmas Story" to me. Complete with Querinious, governor of Syriah, placed inexplicably into infamy by the Gospel's author. I can pretty much recite it from verse one all the way to "Mary treasured all these things in her heart..." I learned it a little at a time, one year to the next, one sunday school teacher after another, flannel-graph to flannel-graph. So at dinner the other night I asked the boys, "Can you guys tell me the Christmas Story?"
Could they ever...no flannel-graph required -
Bridger: "First, Mary was sweeping the house. Then, um, the angel told her that she was going to have a baby and then Joseph got disappointed that it wasn’t his baby but he fell asleep and had a dream that the angel came to him and told him that the child will not be yours but you can engage with Mary and then it will be yours. Then Joseph was so happy that he ran to Mary and they were engaged."
"Then the king..."
Caid: you mean Hawod..."
Bridger: No not Herod. The king, told them to register and they had to go to Bethlehem (pronounced in proper British with a long e between the l and the h), the town of David in Judea.
I find Joseph's courage this year at the heart of my Christmas Story. I now know what it feels like to uproot a young family and travel thousands of miles from home. We aren't birthing a new child but we are, we have been, birthing a new HOME. A home that is not, and will likely never again, be attached to a physical place in this world. Instead it immenates from the connection that Cori and I have found in all of the heartbreak. All of the pain and the tears. And - not to be missed - the delight, the wonder, the passion, the newness, and the adventure. We can list home in places now like an empty driveway where a car should have been parked awaiting our return from holiday. In a bedroom with nothing but an air mattres for three months. On a freezing cold train carriage where we texted back and forth for two hours as a very important international flight left Gatwick without me. But also home is at the top of the Eiffel Tower. In the wings of Notre Dame betneath the Rose Window. Around the Carousel at the Luxembourg Gardens. At the seaside of the English Channel. In the balcony of a west end theatre. At the Oscar Hotel for Christmas dinner with the boys. In front of this year's tree surrounded by paper chains and childrens' art projects...
And, for whatever inexplicable reason in the human design, like with child birth, most of that birthing has been from Cori. Right from her guts. Something about HOME must come from a woman working to make it so. And so, I have found myself, thinking this year of Joseph. How he must have done all he could to ease the pace and the cadence of that miserable mule on the long road. How he probably gave up the last drink from his water skin every time. And how when he was pointed to the stable he settled in with a smile, tied the donkey, and then slipped to the back where he slid to a squat against the back wall with his head in hands just trying to pull it together. Just trying to keep holding the space. Knowing that's really all he could do.
Bridger: "Then Mary had to have the baby in the stable because they were living in the house that was a stable because there was no where to stay because the rooms where all full."
Me: Where did they try to stay first?
Bridger:They tried to stay in the inn and they asked if they could come in but no, the rooms were all full go try the next inn so the inn keeper said you could stay in my stable.
Me: What's an Inn?
Bridger: An Inn is a hotel in Pub.
Caid: No... Inn is de guy who is de keeper of duh hotel.
I'm suprised this year how many people I've heard reference the Inn Keeper. Some in veiled tones of criticism for not cleaning out so much as a broom closet or giving up his own bed. Some wanting to saint him for offering his stable. Even Garrison Keillor gives the guy a shout out in his version of the story as an overworked, disaffected employee who "just works here." Funny thing is we don't have any idea how he, or she, might have responded. Or whether he or she was there to talk at all. Whatever the case, I like the idea that Joseph stopped and checked on the back room at the local pub, and Mr. Inn, vewy gwaciously offewed them his stable.
Bridger: "So, the shepherds were watching their flocks and an angel came to them and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said not to be afraid. He said I bring you good news, today a baby is born in Judea, town of david...
Caid: "That’s bethlemen..."
Bridger: "...and you will see him lying in a manger in white clothes. Then a whole choir of angels came and they said glory to god in the highest, peace on earth to old men, amen.
The shepherds went to marry and joseph and told them all about what the angels told them. Then everyone was amazed when the shepherds told everybody else.
This was an important point to Bridger. So much so that at the Christ Church Deal Christmas celebration, in the middle of a prayer, Bridger asked for the microphone, and in Christ Church Deal fashion, was given it to tell everyone that one of the important ways the shepherds welcomed Jesus was by telling everybody else about them. But that's just Bridger. Making the kind of connections that Bridger makes everywhere. His full name means "He who builds bridges with Yahweh as his God." And this is what Bridger does. Yesterday he and I went to St. Paul's for a caroling service. St. Paul's is one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the world. The spectacle was amazing. The choir was amazing. Bridger, was unimpressed. Until he learned that the lady sitting next to us was from Boston. i.e., the home of the Red Sox. i.e., the arch nemesis of the Colorado Rockies due to the outcome of the 2007 World Series. i.e., the arch nemesis of Bridger Anderberg and a problem he has been trying to resolve with Nate Shultz since the inception of their relationship. But, Bridger found common ground here. Not in the rivalry, but in the beauty of the sport, and soon the cathedral in all of its splendor could have simply melted away into the dark streets of Bethlehem and, without knowing it, every deed that Bridger has ever witnessed Matt Holiday perform in left field was just one more perfect announcement that the Christ child was born - because he shown out so clearly from the perfect little brown eyes of that little boy and his willingness to make a new friend from Boston.
Bridger: Then there was wise men, riding on camels but they went to Jerusalem, the town where Herod lived and they asked him where Jesus was and he didn’t know and he grew angry but pretended he was happy and said when you find him tell me and I actually will bow down before him too.
Caid: Hewod said that because he gwew angwy and he wanted to kill all duh baby boys.
Me: Why did he want to do that?
Caid: I’m not willy suwe actually?
Bridger: He was afraid that he would lose his power and he wanted to keep his power so he decided to kill all the boys in every country and he sent his men to do that.
This is a part of the Christmas Story I have a tremendous problem with as I consider all of the parents and brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and grandparents and friends - all of the Anderbergs, and Hoggatts, and Nails, and Switzers, and Baars, and Shultzes, and Elwells, and Philips who would have been shattered by the unbelievable injustice of this event. The loss that would have torn through them as that innocent little piece of their wold was ripped inexplicably from them? I argue with God about this. About how that could have been prevented. About His safe passage to Egypt. About the ridiculous insanity of this bloodshed as a result of what we celebrate every December. I'm still arguing. He's still listening. Perhaps someday we'll change turns and I'll get a fuller picture. But this year I'm just thankful for Jake, and Jack, and Alastair, and I can't wait to see each of them.
Bridger: Then Mary and Joseph were told to move so they moved to a new house and the wise came to see them there. One of the wise men gave them gold, one gave him myrrh, one gave him frankincense. Myrrh is sap from a tree and frankincense is milk from a cow.
Caid: Huh uh. Fwankincence is sap from a twee and Myrrh (said in proper British muhh) is milk from a cow...
We never did discover which was which. But we are clear that those boys have been listenting during RE. RE is, of course, religious education. But this kind of understanding doesn't come from simply listening to the story in school. This comes because they ingest and ask questions and then think for themselves. It's why they can comment on Christmas eve that probably things didn't work out for Joseph and Mary exactly like they expected... Today didn't really end up the way we expected either. We spent the last third of the day in the emergency room because I dislocated my shoulder again. I was goofing around with he boys on the playground and out it popped. I knew immediately, but shoulders don't pop back in per the Mel Gibson/Leathal Weapon routine, so there we were, stuck in a park, in Croydon, on Christmas day with no idea where the closest emergency room was - and no phone. Cori was holding my arm in traction and uttered a quick prayer for help and within 30 seconds a family arrived with two boys, a girl, mum, dad, and the grandparents. Dad called an ambulance. Bridger was swept into the arms of grandmum for a chat to calm him down. Caid was figuring out how to shoot the air pellet guns the two boys had secured from Father Christmas and probably wondering if "it would be wise" to shoot one at me in that state. Granddad stood sentinel on the sidewalk and then barked orders at the EMT's until I was safely in the ambulance.
The ambulance drivers where very kind. Not the most gentle of men with an arm that happens to be as secure as a clock pendulum but very tender just the same - and I needed that today. Due to the horrors that I've heard of the NHS I expected much worse, but even the hospital experience wasn't bad and after only 5 hours from the time of dislocation, I was on my way home with something very strong and affecting doing cartwheels in my veins.
Expedient as it was, we missed Christmas dinner. So we went for plan B. Curry from the local Indian place. The door was open and I walked in to greet the manager and the guy that works the til at the offlicense up the street. Both know me by now and asked about the sling - so I explained. Turns out the restaurant wasn't open today. The manager just got stuck there due to holiday train schedules. He is a Muslim and has never in his life celebrated Christmas. However, when he heard the story, our Christmas Story, he just wanted to help. So he took my order and made us a take home feast of some of the best Indian food I've ever eaten. And made sure that each of us, boys included, had a special drink while we waited for the food to finish.
And so at the end of the day, as Christmas has once again passed on this side of the world, I think about the unexpected turn of events of our day. The unexpected turn of events of our lives. The times in the last few weeks that I have had to slip out back behind the stable, slide to a squat and put my head in my hands and just try to get a grip. And then I think of Roc, the manager of Taste of Bengali at the Sanderstead Train Station and I hope that's what "Inn" was like when he couldn't offer a room to Mary and pointed her to the stable. Simply delighted, even though the event meant nothing to him, to provide a place in the stable.
May the remainder of your Christmas be blessed. May you revel in the family and friends that you have. May you be surprised by all that a friendly universe can offer you if you will open your arms. And may you find the Christ Child in the most unexpected of places throughout 2009. Merry Christmas!
Dec. 25, 2008