The Question of Christmas

What is the true meaning of Christmas?  So many of the movies and tv shows we will be watching this season will be asking us to consider that very question, if not leading us to an answer. I usually find, however, that not much thought goes into what makes Christmas authentic. So here is another question we can consider for Christmas: what does an authentic Christmas look like?

As I write this, our church is gearing up for the second running of our annual “Walk Thru Bethlehem.”  While I remember the many positive reactions of people who took the tour last year, one comment I found kind of humorous: “Your portrayal of Christmas was quite authentic.”

Now on the one hand this was a big compliment as we converted our somewhat useless dirt floor basement space into two rustic scenes worthy of scenes from ancient times, or what we think ancient times were like.  Also, the live animals wandering around our courtyard gave the feeling that you really were at a stable.

But our portrayal of Christmas was not as authentic as it might have seemed. For starters, out of all our shepherds in the shepherd scene, only one was really shepherding – the rest were young boys in need of the shepherding skills of our main shepherd. Then there were our angels. My three boys, in taking after their father, were definitely not in line for wearing any kind of halo. They joined the shepherds, under the watchful eye of our shepherd! The angels were the girls from our Sunday School. I’m not sure how angelic our Sunday School teachers would say they normally are, but they did well! Our Mary outdoors (my wife) was far more concerned for the sheep getting too close for comfort, than the comfort of her newborn baby – which of course was more of a recently imported toy. Then there were the lamas. Yes, live animals are a feature of our “Walk Thru” but not having easy access to camels, lamas will do!  Never mind where they could be found when Jesus was born. So was it authentic? Or did people leave pondering the true meaning of Christmas?

Now I remember as a young lad setting for myself the New Year’s goal of reading through the Bible starting with the New Testament. I also remember being somewhat dismayed that starting in the Gospel of Matthew, I would have to read through all that Christmas stuff again when we had just spent a whole month thinking about it. To my surprise I was through the Christmas story in ten minutes and off into the life of a thirty-something Jesus. Then into Mark’s Gospel, where the Christmas story does not even get a mention. Then into Luke’s, where again ten minutes gets you past Christmas. Then into John’s Gospel where, like Mark, there is no mention of a baby Jesus, or a manger, or shepherds or wise men. And apart from Old Testament prophecies, that’s about it for the Christmas story in the Bible.

Interestingly, though Mark in his gospel account mentions nothing of the birth of Jesus, a full third of his work is dedicating to recording the final week of the life and teaching of Jesus leading up to his crucifixion and resurrection. It makes me wonder if when we set out to find the true meaning of Christmas we aren’t missing the mark. It makes Christmas an end in itself, it makes it a celebration with its own point, disconnected from the rest of the year and the rest of life. The story of Christmas in the Bible points beyond itself. We quickly move from baby Jesus, to a focus on an adult Jesus, with a sharp concentration on a dead Jesus and a celebratory lifting up  of a risen Jesus. The Biblical account does not stop there but goes on to invite us to consider a returning Jesus. So perhaps when we ask “what is the true meaning of Christmas?” we stop short of asking the question Christmas really points us to consider: “Who is Jesus and why should I know?”

My family and I want to wish you a Merry and Meaningful Christmas. I hope that you can take the time to join one of the Glebe church families for the many Christmas celebrations on offer.  I pray that you will ask the questions Christmas points us to.

What Caterpillars Do Best

I’ve been quiet on the blog recently – so I thought I had better do something while I collect my thoughts to write another article for the Glebe Report, assuming I can get some thoughts together of course!  So here is a children’s story I wrote while in Pembroke as a children’s moment for church.  Blame it on having wee’uns!

What Caterpillars Do Best.

“Are you going to start your cocoon yet?” June asked her baby brother Joe one fine day.

“I’m not sure I want to make a cocoon,” replied Joe.  “I’m not sure what I want to do, but I know I do not want to make a cocoon.”

“But you have to make a cocoon,” replied June, “It’s what we are created to do.  It’s what we caterpillars do best.”

“But,” Joe replied, “I’m not sure it’s what I want to do best . . . in fact it is what I want to do least!”

Joe was walking in the park looking for his friends when he saw something he had never seen before.  At first he was a curious, so he got closer to this new creature to have a look.  It was black and long and had wings.  Joe started to count the wings. One, two, three, four wings.

“It’s a dragonfly,” said Freddie, one of Joe’s friends who had come along.  “Are you ready to start building your cocoon?” asked Freddie.

Joe didn’t answer but watched in amazement as the dragonfly leapt up into the air and was gone.

“I do not want to build a cocoon” said Joe to his friend.

“But you have to make a cocoon,” replied Freddie, “It’s what we do.  It’s what we caterpillars do best.”

“But,” said Joe, “I do not want to build a cocoon, and besides, I now know what I really want to do.”

“Oh, what’s that?” asked Freddie.

“I want to fly!”

Joe knew that all his caterpillar friends had busied themselves building cocoons, but he also knew that he wanted to do something different.  Cocoons were ok. if you wanted to sleep your life away, thought Joe, but they were not for him.  No, he did not want to sleep, he wanted to fly.  And so he set himself to building something for himself.  No, not a cocoon like all his friends, but a set of wings so that he could fly.  “Yep, they will be amazed” he thought “when they wake up from all that silly sleeping, and look up to see me flying.”

And so Joe made himself wings from leaves.  His friends made cocoons.  Joe put his new wings on and flapped, and flapped, and flapped while his friends went into their cocoons and slept, and slept and slept.  Joe didn’t get off the ground at all.  So he made a new set of wings out of tree bark.  He put them on and flapped, and flapped, and flapped, and flapped while his friends slept, and slept, and slept.  Joe didn’t get off the ground at all.  So he made a new set of wings, in fact he made many new sets of wings out of every material possible and he flapped and flapped and flapped, while his friends slept and slept and slept.  But Joe never got off the ground.

Then one day, Joe’s friends woke from their sleep.  Joe watched in amazement as his friends, one by one, left their cocoons, unfolded their beautiful wings and flew off into the air.  Joe put down his latest set of wings that he was building out of paper and started building a cocoon.  After all, building cocoons is what caterpillars do best.