I thought I’d posted this on my old blog but couldn’t find it. If it’s new, I hope you enjoy it. If it’s old, I hope it was kind of worth reading twice. Our church begins each service by lighting a chalice. The person chosen to do this prepares a personal reflection on the sermon topic. I gave this at Christmastime a few years ago (the 11-year-old son it mentions is turning 20 on Sunday.) As I’m sure you’ll surmise, we UU’s are not a literal lot. We are an aggregation of humanists, ethical Christians, pagans, atheists, agnostics, Buddhists…well, you get the idea:
Well, here we all are, gathered together to celebrate—well, acknowledge—uh, cope with the Christmas story.
When I was asked to light the chalice and share a personal reflection with you all today, I knew just what story I would tell you. My son, Benjamin, is 11 years old, but when he was three, I decided that it was time to put Christmas into some other perspective for him than just Santa and toys, so I pulled out the nativity set my mother had passed on to me. It’s been in the family awhile, and to this day, the figures are wrapped in newspaper from New Year’s Day, 1963. Ben and I set up the stable, and I pulled out the first figurine. “This,” I said, “is Baby Jesus. We celebrate Christmas to honor his birth. He is important because he was a great teacher.” This was easy. I just had to squelch the urge to get sidetracked into a discussion of exactly what time of year Jesus was born. At the moment, it was irrelevant.
I pulled out the next little statue. “This is Mary, Jesus’s mother. We are putting them in this stable because when Mary traveled to Bethlehem, she was pregnant and about to have a baby. Unfortunately, there were no rooms left at the—uh, hotel.” Another hurdle successfully leaped.
We unwrapped a couple of sheep, an oxen, and a donkey. The next three figures were wrapped together. “These are three wise men. They saw a really cool star and figured it meant something pretty important had happened. They had also heard rumors about the birth of this great teacher, so they brought presents.”
Ben asked the first and most important question of the evening. “What did they bring?”
“Uh—frankincense, gold, and myrrh.” Ben just gave me a blank look. “Stuff that smelled good. After all, the poor kid’s living in a barn.” Ben nodded in complete understanding.
“This,” I continued, “is a shepherd. He’s checking out what’s going on.”
Ben asked, “Is the lamb he’s carrying a present, too?”
“Maybe,” I said.
Ben said, “I think Jesus will like it better than the other stuff.” I couldn’t argue.
I unwrapped the last player in the drama. “This is Joseph.” Suddenly, it occurred to me that I was holding a loaded figurine. How, exactly, did Joseph fit into this little scene? “He was Jesus’s—stepfather,” I explained, capitulating to the traditional interpretation of the story.
A year-and-a-half later I had a daughter, and when it came time to explain the nativity scene to her, I had decided to be a little more upfront. “No one knows exactly who Jesus’s father was, but I’m pretty sure it was this guy here,” I said, as I settled Joseph firmly amid the fake hay. But Leah had been talking to her Christian friends.
“Isn’t Jesus the Son of God?” she asked.
I was taken aback, but every moment is a teachable moment, so I took advantage of this one.
“Of course he was. Every child is a child of God. That’s what made Jesus a great teacher. He taught us that we are all God’s children, and that no one is any more or less sacred than anyone else. That was a pretty new idea back when Jesus was alive.” That made sense to her, and now the setting up of the nativity scene is a comfortable family tradition.
The Christians admonish us to remember that Jesus is the “reason for the season.” While my interpretation is different, I have to agree. Maybe the myth has its problems. I am pretty sure that the guy kneeling next to Mary is Jesus’s biological father, and I don’t know if the whole star thing is a fantasy or a coincidental super nova. What I do know is that on any clear, cold December night, there are enough stars in the sky for every child of God born that day. I know that if we chose to follow any one of those stars, it would lead us to a baby with the potential to be great teacher, artist, scientist or philosopher. A child who, like Jesus, will make the world a better place for the legacy of love he or she leaves behind. Every star lights the way to a miracle.
Today, I light this chalice in celebration of the Christmas story and in celebration of every new life heralded by every star that has ever shone.