Rev. Dee Lowman
There have been very few times in the past 16 years that I've been able to be at home with my mom around Christmas. We’ve had this ongoing joke, though, ever since I was a kid. My mom collects crèches of all shapes, sizes, kinds. She must have 50 or so by now. Anyway, every year she sets out a bunch of them all around her house. Some are sentimental favorites, like the Play-Doh crèche we made when we were kids, and the beautiful porcelain set made by folks in a workshop for developmentally disabled adults nearby. Some are from places as far away as South Africa and Jerusalem, or as close as Lancaster, PA. Anyway, the joke is that I run around and gather up all the Kings from all the crèches and hide them somewhere safe. When she “discovers” that they're gone, she feigns disgust and “demands” their return. I usually say something like, “It's not January 6th yet. You'll get them back when it's Epiphany.” Again, feigning frustration, she says something like, “I'm only anticipating the inevitable. They'll arrive eventually.”
This is a difficult time of year not to anticipate the inevitable, or to expect the expected. I think I am getting to a stage in my life that I like the predictable, the planned, the expected – which makes parenting a 2 year old a challenge. Like for instance - I talked to my dad the day after Thanksgiving, knowing full well that he would tell me again about the Christmas Tuba Concert he was going to at the Mall near his house. He attends this every year. In my own home, we will soon get a tree and put candles in our windows and wreath on our door. All those things symbolize for me the act of celebrating and looking forward to Christmas Day. And it's not like I haven't heard the story of the birth of Jesus before. Most people my age can recite it from the King James Version – thank you Charles Schultz and the classic Peanuts Christmas.
But folks like Mary and Joseph. They didn't know the end of the story. They had to wait and to trust that things would somehow work out - that Joseph would find a way to accept what God told him, that Mary had indeed been faithful to him and that this was a holy, blessed child that she was carrying. Many of us need to know that somehow, things will work out. Sometimes we are smack dab in the middle of a story like this – waiting, watching, hoping. The only option we have sometimes is anticipate that things will work out and to trust.
I was listening to a song a friend of mine the other day called, “Hey Joe.” [Click here to listen] In it the singer tells the story of how he felt when his spouse told him it was time to go to the hospital to deliver their first child. He sings about getting so pumped at that moment that he left her in the driveway of their home, and he didn’t drive the planned route. No matter how much they had planned for what was inevitably going to happen, the event of a lifetime took him by surprise. The dad, in a sort of prayer, sings out to Joseph and asks him what he did when the baby came. Did he have it all together? Did he remember all the things to do? Did all this take his breath away?
Maybe that’s the way that Christmas should happen every year –it should take our breath away at the notion that God loved us so much, that God became one of us and hung out with us here for a while. No matter what we have planned, no matter how many lists we’ve made or schedules we’ve filled, God bursts into all of it and we are surprised again. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine, and sometimes it’s almost impossible to believe – particularly when there are times that are harder than others to see the star in the sky or believe the shepherds or angels that it’s true. I don’t think that Joseph himself processed all of this in 3 or 4 verses of scripture. So it can take us a little longer than one hour of worship or 4 Sundays of Advent to adjust again to the truth of this season – God loves us and so Jesus came to live with us and help us to live. This is worth the anticipation.
Camilla Smith, when setting out her crèche each year, would have the Kings somewhere in her living room – in the East (of course). She would each day, move the kings just a little bit closer to the crèche. Incidentally, being the Scriptural purist that she was, they would never make it to the stable. “You, of course, know,” she would say, “that they never actually saw him there. It was in a house, perhaps two years later.” So the Kings arrived when Jesus was two, and they still thought he was a king. Interesting. But Camilla also knew about the joy of anticipation. Not too soon, not just yet. Each day moving closer and closer to Jesus. Can we do that this year? Is it possible to both anticipate AND be astonished by the news that Jesus is born? I hope so, for all of us. God, let us be surprised and astonished this year.