Last night, my church had its Christmas party. As part of the party, we had a time set aside for stories and performances. I put this piece together for the party. I didn’t write it down, I just practiced it over and over until it was ready to go. Enjoy:
Every year, my neighbor puts the same Nativity scene on his front lawn. The plastic shepherds with the plastic sheep, scampering on the grass. The angels glistening and glowing overhead. The wise men in their flowing robes and lavish gifts. And Father Joseph and Mother Mary, gazing lovingly on the little baby Jesus in the manger. It’s a beautiful scene, content and serene. You can almost hear “Silent Night” playing in the background.
It’s a beautiful scene. But it seems incomplete. Where is the rest of the Christmas story? Where are the other Nativity scenes?
Where is the scene of Mary suffering the scorn and shame of her neighbors, as they whisper behind her back, “She isn’t even married yet and already pregnant. She claims that it’s from God. How ridiculous. How dare she show her face in public, the slut!” Where is the scene of Mary holding her ever growing belly, the mark of her shame, the home of the savior?
Where is the scene of King Herod, the jealous and spiteful ruler, twisting with fear at the thought of one come to challenge his reign, his authority?
Where is the scene of the grieving mother Rachel, holding the body of her dead son, the victim of the king’s jealous rage? She cries out his name, but he will no longer answer.
These scenes are not on my neighbor’s lawn, so where are they? I’ll tell you where they are.
They’re in my neighbor’s house. And in the house of the neighbor next door. And the house of the neighbor down the street. And in my house. For these scenes are part of the same story. We might have changed the characters and altered the setting, but the script has remained the same: Shame, fear, and sorrow. This is the same story that we have been telling again, and again, and again, and this year is no different. The fire at the Ghost Ship Collective in Oakland. The shooting at the gay nightclub in Orlando. The devastation in Aleppo, Syria.
We may see these scenes and shut our eyes, say that they are too sad, too unbearably tragic, for us to see, especially during Christmas. But it’s precisely because it’s Christmas that we must remember them, for they are part of the story. But as we remember these tragedies, let us not forget that they, too, are not complete.
Christmas is the story of the coming of the perfect one into an imperfect world, and of this world deciding that this one was too beautiful, too wonderful, to allow to live.
For just as Jesus was born into a wooden manger, so he would one day be borne upon a different wooden structure. And as he hung on that cross, slowly suffocating to death, the one who breathed life itself into existence, he bore on his shoulders…his mother’s shame, King Herod’s fear, the grieving Rachel’s sorrow, the broken stories of all of my neighbors, and of me. And in that moment, the story that we have been telling since time immemorial finally changed. He wrote a new ending.
Every year, my neighbor puts the same Nativity scene on his front lawn. The scene is beautiful, but it’s not complete. And every year, all my neighbors hold their hidden stories of sadness, pain, and loss. Their stories are tragic, but they are not complete.
Our stories are made complete in one who came in his beautiful revelation, his tragic execution, and his glorious exaltation. Our stories are made complete in him. In him, it is finished, for in him, it is finished. He has written a new ending. He has given us a new beginning.