Last week at Grace Church we had an Advent festival, which featured some lovely ornament and Advent wreath crafts, as well as a lot of very colorful cookie icing (followed by some sugar-high-fueled Advent-related games!). At the end of the evening, we settled in for a story around the Advent wreath. The kids listened really well, and for the most part stayed away from the candles as I told the stories of the people in the Bible preparing for Jesus’ birth. I put out figures from the nativity set as I told the story: Mary and Joseph and the donkey, making their long journey to Bethlehem; the shepherds, listening with awe and fear to the angels announcing Jesus’ birth; the Magi, following the wild star that they saw in the heavens.
One of my younger storytelling companions was holding a little sculpture of some kind that she’d made out of wire earlier in the evening, and, while she listened, she kept on swooping the tangle of wire into the center of each new group of figures I laid out next to the wreath. It was making me nervous: there were candles nearby, and the wire was pokey and sharp on the ends. So I kept gently pushing her hand away and reminding her to sit back from the candles as I told the story.
When I had finished the story and we’d extinguished the candles, she handed the wire to me. “This is a present for you,” she said. I hadn’t been able to see before then that the wire had a specific shape: it was a crooked little heart, surrounded by a circle. “It’s a heart, for love,” she told me.
Each time she had swooped this little heart into the story, she had been placing love right in the center of it: into Mary and Joseph’s long and dangerous journey at the behest of the emperor, into the shepherds’ listening to the frightening angels and going to meet this unusual baby king, into the wise people’s coming from far away to a strange land because they saw a sign that a remarkable thing had happened there. And finally, into the arrival of the baby Jesus, Love itself, who became human to live among us, to be with us even in our most vulnerable form, as a tiny, dependent baby. Jesus, somehow both human and God, both in need of love and the source of all love.
It’s been my universal experience that children usually know what a story needs in order to be fully true. And I think that it’s easy to miss (or push away, as I did) both the incredible love and the danger that’s present in the stories that surround Jesus’ birth. Jesus’ family was poor; Mary and Joseph both took on terrible risk by accepting this gift of Love, risk of being ostracized for this baby that arrived while they were engaged, risk of traveling so slowly over the dangerous roads in order to be counted, risk of birth in a place they were not welcome, where there was no place prepared for them. This risk would not end in the manger: they were chased out of their country by a jealous king; Mary watched her son die a terrible death.
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The shepherds were also unlikely participants in this profound moment. The shepherds were likely used to being ignored, disregarded, even disliked by people of any importance; they lived outside the city with sheep, and were not the type of people invited to the birth of a king. And yet they were summoned by angels, and recognized this king of Love, even in his unlikely form and his unimpressive surroundings. And the Magi were not even from around those parts, and yet they too endangered themselves, lying to and disobeying the orders of King Herod after recognizing the importance of this child’s origins.
And yet, in the midst of a dangerous time, 2,000 years ago and today, Love swoops right down in the middle of us, in the unlikeliest of forms. Love wants to be with us, even when things are dangerous or messy or don’t seem like a place that you’d want to spend much time with at all. I’m grateful for my pokey, crooked gift of a wire heart during this season, as a reminder to be on the lookout for the unlikely places where Love will appear: in my life, in our community’s life, in the life of the world.
Celebrate Love with us at Grace Episcopal Church this Christmas
-Spanish Christmas Service with Christmas Pastorela, 5 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 21. Children of all ages are welcome to come at 4:30 p.m., to dress up and participate in the Christmas pageant. The service will be easy to follow for both Spanish and English speakers, and a delicious meal and party will follow the service.
-Christmas Eve Service with Children’s Pageant and Caroling, 4 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 24. Children of all ages are invited to arrive at 3:15 p.m., to choose a costume and participate in acting out the story of Jesus’ birth.
-Christmas Eve Service with Organ Recital, Tuesday, Dec. 24, 8 p.m. Holy Eucharist service begins at 8:30 p.m.
-Christmas Day Service, Wednesday, Dec. 25, 10 a.m. Join us to celebrate the Holy Eucharist and sing favorite Christmas hymns.
The Rev. Anne Clarke is assistant rector at Grace Episcopal Church, 1314 Spring St. in St. Helena. To reach the church office, call 963-4157.