In his poem “Sharon’s Christmas Prayer”, John Shea, theologian and renowned storyteller, tells us the Christmas story though the eyes of a child:
She was five,
sure of the facts,
and recited them
with slow solemnity
convinced every word
they were so poor
they had only peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
and they went a long way from home
without getting lost. The lady rode
a donkey, the man walked, and the baby
was inside the lady.
They had to stay in a stable
with an ox and an ass (hee-hee)
but the Three Rich Men found them
because a star lited the roof
Shepherds came and you could
pet the sheep but not feed them.
Then the baby was borned.
And do you know who he was?
Her quarter eyes inflated
to silver dollars,
The baby was God.
And she jumped in the air
whirled round, dove into the sofa
and buried her head under the cushion
which is the only proper response
to the Good News of the Incarnation.
JOY! … the kind that makes you want to jump up in the air and whirl around. Joy! … too much to keep inside. The kind that makes you feel like burying your head under a sofa cushion just to contain all of the emotion without losing it out of the top of your head!
When is the last time YOU have felt that kind of JOY?
I wasn’t what you’d call a very joyful child. You can see that in those old black and white photos in the family baby books and albums. I was a rather fearful child who didn’t take life lightly, being concerned even at an early age with such weighty issues as death and eternity. I was always creative, but even if I dared, would never have been allowed to “whirl around, dive into the sofa and bury my head under a cushion.”
And though pushed to express myself more, I would never have been allowed to tell the Nativity Story in such a creative, “let-all-the-stops-out” way — in that most proper response to a story as breathtaking as the incarnation of God in the birth of Jesus Christ.
My creativity expressed itself in my own imaginative play, where assorted scraps of wood could transform into people and decks of cards into warriors in armchair forts. And at Christmas the old glass Christmas tree ornaments were magical mirrors of distorted images of my face and surroundings as I lay peering into them on the couch. All of the world was transformed in both fantasy and mystery as we anticipated with awe the Joy of Christmas Eve — in the arrival of Jesus, then Santa. So it was through my vivid imagination that I did find a special Joy at Christmas. It was, after all, a time when like the Shepherds, I thought I could hear the Angels sing.
Many years later I would go to that field in Bethlehem, and to the manger, traveling further than I would ever have imagined both from home and from the old fears that had inhibited my Joy and love of adventure. “Do not be afraid,” said the Angel to the shepherds. “I bring you good news of great Joy that will be for all the people.”
But the shepherds are TERRIFIED! At least, for awhile. These are simple folk … hard-working poor — looked down on by others and considered unclean from working with smelly sheep and not always washing in the proper ritual way. But God is giving THEM a message of Good News of GREAT JOY for ALL people!
And by the time the angels leave, the shepherds aren’t afraid anymore. They are on their way to Bethlehem to see for themselves — to find that great JOY for themselves. And like the little girl in the poem — they can’t keep quiet about it either! They can’t keep the news to themselves. And all who heard that news, says the Bible, were AMAZED!
And THAT seems like a proper response to the Good News of the Incarnation –God with us in human form. Amazement!
I, however, grew up in a church community that was all for amazing grace but not especially joyful. No waving of hands in praise or, God forbid, movement during worship except to stand up and sit down. I remember trying to hold my breath during the minister’s prayers and wasn’t quite sure if smiles or sneezes were allowed. Perhaps I was just that sort of serious kid.
At night I prayed for forgiveness, concerned I might chalk up another sin before falling asleep. And it didn’t help that a prayer I said every night contained the phrase “if I should die before I wake”. If only I would have had a better understanding of the depth of God’s love back then, I might have jumped in the air and whirled around, dived into the sofa and buried my OWN head under the cushion — much to the shock of my family!
I couldn’t jump into the air and whirl around today even if I wanted to. But maybe once in awhile, I can let myself get in touch with that uninhibited childlike Joy that was celebrated in the poem. Maybe this Christmas. It’s a proper response, after all, to the Good News of Great Joy.
“For unto US a Child is born!”