Sights and Insights
Devotion for Dec. 29, 2020
Mary was engaged to Joseph and traveled with him to Bethlehem. She was soon going to have a baby, and while they were there, she gave birth to her first-born+ son. She dressed him in baby clothes and laid him on a bed of hay, because there was no room for them in the inn. – Luke 2:5-7 (CEV)
Do you have any special ornaments on your tree? We do not have many fancy ones, but we have plenty with stories behind them.
The one in the picture was a gift to me from Wendolyn a couple of years after we were married. One of our favorite songs has a line, “A pinecone dipped in glitter glue/ a penny 1942,” and so that is what she made. It finds its way onto our tree each year, along with the many others that help tell a story of our family: preschool art projects, items bought during travels, a few from when Wendolyn and I were children. Again, there’s little that is particularly fancy, but as we take them out each year we can relive a bit of the stories of how we got them. To be honest, there is little religious symbolism to our tree. That shows up in other places for us. The tree is more about us.
Narratives are an important way we come to an understanding of who we are. Families and communities tell stories not just to give a sense of history but also as identifying and passing on the kind of people they are and they aspire to be. Religions use stories in these same ways; they may build on abstract concepts and concrete texts, but the message comes to life in the telling of stories. Christianity, for instance, has a the biblical texts to give shape to the community and a deep intellectual tradition to help us wrestle with issues that arise, but a great deal of the vibrancy of the church comes from the stories of God at work found in the bible and in the ongoing life of the church.
The story that many of us have of Mary and Joseph going to Bethlehem and Jesus being born is one that could be told in a negative light. Mary had to travel while pregnant, there was no room for them, they were forced to lay Jesus in a feeding trough. That sounds like the story of a horrible time. Yet we often hear it as a story of wonder. We focus on the fact that despite all of the hardships, they tenderly cared for Jesus, wrapping him in bands of cloth. We imagine a special silence, comforting animal sounds, a joyous reception of unexpected visitors like shepherds (and perhaps even welcoming a boy playing a drum!?!?!?). The way the story is told helps to open our eyes to the vision of God coming to be with us; it prepares us for news of joy.
The way the story is told shapes the meaning that people receive in it and the outlook that people derive out of it. As we come to the end of 2020, how will we tell the story of this year, especially for the life of St. Matthew? Will we tell the story of the plans that we disrupted, the struggles faced, the traditions missed? Or will we tell of challenges endured with creativity and teamwork, new traditions forged when old ones needed to change, of mourning together and cooperatively seeking to become more engaged and more open to the needs of others than ever before? The events have happened, and continue to unfold. How we tell the story of it all, though, is a task still before us. May we find a narrative that captures the enduring spirit that so many of shown, and inspires us for years to come to be a people that recognizes the ways that God continually comes to be with us and moves us to be people of joy.