January 11, 2015
My friend’s ‘Epiphany Project’ as she called it started in November.
One day (before Thanksgiving) she walked by a department store in which the display window had jumbled together Santa Claus, someone who may have been intended to represent the inn-keeper, Mary, Joseph, cows, sheep, donkeys, camels, shepherds kneeling side by side with three imposing Kings, various sized angels singing while the little Drummer Boy played energetically for a blond-haired Christ Child lying in the manger.
My friend who shares my passion for the meaning of the Old Texts called me to share her irritation. “How can we expect people to have any historical sense of the Christmas story when we do things like that?” she fumed.
“We can’t,” I agreed.
“Well, at our house things are going to be more accurate,” she said firmly, and added, “I have an idea. I’ll call you after I get Advent things put together for the kids, and you come see what you think.”
What I found when I went to visit was amusing and instructive: the wise men, looking like ordinary people (not a gold crown to be seen) along with their servants and luggage, their donkeys and ill-tempered camels were all assembled on a packing case in a far corner of the garage.
The nativity scene and the advent candles were, as usual, beautifully present on the table in front of the east window in the living room. (No Christ child to be seen, however.)
Her five-year-old granddaughter Gina explained the garage scene carefully to me.
“These people are coming to see Jesus too, but they have to come a long way and it will take them a long time. Tomorrow Grams and I will move them over there to that shelf to show that they’re coming as fast as they can to see Jesus too.”
We then adjourned the garage to visit the other figures in the living room.
She saw me glance at the empty crèche, then hurried to explain.
“Jesus is in the piano bench, because He’s not born yet. We’ll put Him out on Christmas Day.”
We stood together quietly looking at the figures arranged to tell the old, old, story.
Then she added confidently, “You know those people in the garage? Grams said that God gave them a star so they wouldn’t get lost. They’ll be here too.”
G.K. Chesterton wrote once that our perennial spiritual and psychological task is to learn to look at things familiar until they become unfamiliar again.
Epiphany calls us to learn again to see God in the ordinary, to wait and wonder about His purpose and sense His presence.
Take the figures out of your nativity set that represent the wise men and their camels and find some boxes for luggage and figures for stubborn donkeys and quarrelsome camels (cute and pretty NOT permitted). They were strangers, you know, and doubtless looked rather odd.
Assemble the whole noisy, untidy bunch of them on some flat surface in the garage.
Then get out a lawn chair. Sit down and look at these odd travelers.
Move them a small distance each day, then sit down in the lawn chair again and look at them.
Practice looking until the familiar becomes unfamiliar again.
It was a strange journey and a dangerous road home.
How does this story make clearer the journey of your life?
See you next week.