A reflection on the children’s nativity play
Some of the children of our parish performed the nativity story for us in worship this morning. Following their presentation we heard Paul speak of rejoicing always, sang the Magnificat, and read of the visit of Mary with Elizabeth. This brief reflection followed:
The telling of the Christmas story by children is always sweet. It is one of the highlights of the Advent and Christmas Season. I’m sure we all have vivid memories of children’s programs over the years.
The Biblical story itself, however, is not sweet. It is full of the harsh realities of tyranny, empire, war, refugees and poverty. Mary and Joseph are displaced persons. The census under Quirinius led to violent uprising and brutal suppression. Herod was a great builder, but a brutal and violent ruler who was himself a foreigner, not a member of the house of Israel.
And while it’s important to remember that there is something more than sweet in the Gospels as they come to us, sweet is good.
We need sweet when the world is not sweet. We need innocence when the world is not innocent. We need charming when the world is filled with threats and dangers.
We need sweet. We need innocent. Not just because life can be harsh, but sweetness communicates a deep truth: the love of God is sweet. And the innocence of a child’s Christmas play reminds us that we are awaiting a world in which our lost innocence is restored.
There is no inn in the Biblical story. It is one of those words that was mistranslated in the 16th century and has since become a fixture of our imagination. The story in Luke is about the guest room attached to the outside of the typical one room peasant home and normally used for storage. There is no room in the guest room because some other family member, more important than Mary and Joseph, was already there. So the holy family had to be taken into the one-room home of the family – a house divided with a section in which the animals are brought in at night to protect them and keep the family warm. But our picture of a full inn with nothing left but a barn out back is rooted in our imagination because it speaks to us. It witnesses to a deeply important truth: in contrast to the closed hearts of the world, we are met in Christ Jesus by the open heart of God.
The heart of God is open to us. More profoundly than we can imagine.
So as we hear this story today, as we hear this story through the days to come, as we hear this story through the various ages of our lives – each time we are reminded, consciously or not, of the sweetness of God’s love, the promise of innocence restored, and the wide open heart of God.
And this is our joy.