Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Yes, Christmas is more like Christmas with children around

Yesterday evening the Parish Hall of St. Benedict's was happily invaded by a horde of wild children, about 14 of them between ages three and ten, all ready to rehearse their roles as shepherds, angels, and for one boy and one girl as Joseph and Mary. Their parents were with us, all ready to bring them back on Christmas Eve for the Nativity Play, to be followed by the first Christmas Eucharist. Before and after the dress rehearsal, the atmosphere was one of noise, some confusion, excited children adding to each others' level of excitement and anticipation. It was just what it ought to be. For the adults too, it added to the existing sense of community and family as a parish.

Most of us remember that Christmas had an almost intoxicating effect on us as children, and somehow it is very comforting to see that this has not changed. The world is so different today than it was in the 1950s and 1960s, when I belonged to the wild tribe we call childhood. But this has not changed; children still get happy and excited when they see adults doing strange things, like bringing a tree into a house and lighting it up. So, when a couple of the mothers came out of a Sunday School class (teaching it) with the idea of a childrens' pageant on Christmas Eve, their idea had my full support, as long as they organized it. For the children to attach their Christmas joy to the Church, in their minds to have the wonder and meaning of Christmas centered in the place where we worship God together and receive His sacraments among those who share that faith, may help that excitement mature into a solid faith that always retains both joy and awe over the Incarnation. Or, as C.S. Lewis once wrote, that the flavor of Easter candy might always make them think of the resurrection of Christ.

"And it shall be when thy son asketh thee in time to come, saying, What is this? that thou shalt say unto him, By strength of hand the LORD brought us out from Egypt, from the house of bondage." Ex. 13:14

"And when thy son asketh thee in time to come, saying, What mean the testimonies, and the statutes, and the judgments, which the LORD our God hath commanded you? Then thou shalt say unto thy son, We were Pharaoh's bondmen in Egypt; and the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand: And the LORD shewed signs and wonders, great and sore, upon Egypt, upon Pharaoh, and upon all his household, before our eyes: And he brought us out from thence, that he might bring us in, to give us the land which he sware unto our fathers." Deut. 6:20-23

When I recall my own childhood, I know that I first learned the Gospel of Christ from my parents because of Christmas and Easter. Theology was beyond my grasp, especially before I could read. But, the joyful remembrance of God the Son born in Bethlehem, portrayed in a creche on top of our mantle, with the magic of a Christmas Tree and a lot of undeserved new toys, grew into an appreciation of the Incarnation and Nativity of the One who is fully God and fully man, and the love of God revealed by coming among us in our own nature (I recall a more advanced form of that same excitement in 1970, at the age of 12, when I was at my first ever Christmas Midnight Mass). In Holy Week and Easter, also, the rituals of the occasion in the home led to a lesson in God's love revealed for us on the cross where Jesus died, and the joy of His resurrection. As I grew older, this matured into gratitude for Christ's full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world, and for my sins, and liberation from fear itself through His defeat of death.

I shared the earlier part of my childhood with the older of my two brothers. Our parents added to our bedtime stories, after they were ended each night, reading of the Ten Commandments, of the Creed called Nicene, and taught us the Lord's Prayer.

"And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up." Deut. 6:6,7

What do you teach your children?

Some Christians have treated the holy days as error to be avoided, like the Puritans who opposed the Church of England for celebrating Christmas and Easter. Some treat the Holy Days as a time of pressure and anxiety, being careful like Martha about many things, and not choosing the better part of sitting at Christ's feet. Indeed, some want services in the Church to be "just so" without any noise from young children.

I heard an account a few years ago, by a man telling of the experience of having a four-year old girl tell him the Nativity story (and if anyone can locate the actual text, I will be grateful). Mary and Joseph took their long trip with nothing to eat but Peanut Butter sandwiches, she told him in hushed and somber tones. After setting up the whole picture and getting to the end, with the shepherds and the angels having arrived on the scene, she said to the man; "and do you know who the baby was? He was God!" And, so the story concludes with her letting out a cry of happiness and doing a double back flip on a sofa, "which," the account ends, "seemed like a perfect response to the truth of the Incarnation."

With all my reading and writing of theology, and my real life experience in Parish ministry, I hope I never lose something inside of me that also wants to do a double back flip when I consider the revelation, "The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us."

UPDATE, 12/24 7:15 PM-The Children's Christmas pageant went very well, and the Parish Hall was filled. Fourteen children each having parents and a few other relatives, makes a good crowd. The children sang some Christmas hymns during their Nativity Play, loud and clear. Some were dressed as angels, some as shepherds, and three wise men in altered Burger King crowns. This will continue to have meaning for these children many years from now, when they are grown and look back. The first Mass of Christmas followed, the second will begin at 11:00 PM.

1 comment:

wnpaul said...

I found "Sharon's Chrismas Prayer", the re-telling of the Christmas story by a little girl, on Kendall Harmon's Titus 1:9 blog, attributed to "John Shea, The Hour of the Unexpected". Very nice, thought-provoking piece.