When I returned to our local church this morning, I asked a friend, “How did the pageant go?” Being away over Christmas weekend meant, alas, missing our Christmas Pageant.
And I loved her answer. “You know,” she said, grinning, “it was just amazing. All the pieces fitted together, they all came together. The costumes were laid out with names and everyone put on their costumes and, well, it all just came together! It was wonderful. One minute there were piles of clothing on the table and the next minute it seemed we were acting out a pageant!”
And so it did come together. But I was sorry to have missed seeing the great story of Bethlehem told in our parish sanctuary on the red-carpeted steps leading to the altar. I knew that Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and she said be it unto me according to your word. I knew that Mary, when the days were accomplished that she should be delivered, traveled to Bethlehem where there would be no room in the inn, that she gave birth to the savior in a manger cave. Shepherds surely kept watch and guarded their flocks by night until a heavenly host appeared, singing glory to God and on earth peace among men. On this first noel the angels, I knew, sang joy to the world, the Lord is come, let earth receive her king! And the shepherds went on to seek this king born in a stable outside Bethlehem. All of this happened, I was sure, on the red carpet leading to the altar where candles flamed. I could see it. I could hear the music.
But this morning as I entered the warm nave and gazed upon the crèche nestled in its bed of greens, I thought how all the pieces came together like my friend said. They came together in Bethlehem two thousand years ago – the centuries since Adam, since Abraham, since the days of Moses and the exodus from Egypt. The pieces, those wandering Children of Israel, were pulled through the wilderness and finally into the promised land. Slowly, piece by piece, thread by thread, a new moment in time formed, the moment of the Incarnation, when God became man.
Just so, I thought, in my own life God has taken the pieces of my days and years and pulled them together to this present moment in time. Sometimes the shards of my experience, those fragments of me, do not always fit perfectly together. For I am a daughter of Eve and prone to rough edges – anger, envy, pride, for starters – so the new vessel, the amphora of me, is not always what God may have intended. Nevertheless, he buffs those rough edges with love and mercy and forms a new me, again and again. And hopefully, certainly, he lives inside, taking possession.
The vessel of our parish has gone through some rough shatterings in the last few years, and we have pulled far flung pieces together, uniting them with love, with the strength of God. There have been moments when the task seemed far too large for us, but we were faithful, or tried to be, falling on our knees, admitting our helplessness. We worshiped together, we shared meals together, we taught our children about the love of God. Over the months and years we have re-fired our our broken fragments to make a rough amphora of a parish, a vessel to hold God’s children, his own body of Christ. Now, we welcome a new rector come among us. He will shepherd us, pulling us into future time, and we are thankful.
The first days of those Twelve Days of Christmas that we celebrated this last week extended Tuesday’s Feast of the Incarnation. We remembered St. Stephen, the first martyr, on Wednesday, then honored the life of St. John the Evangelist on Thursday. Friday we mourned the Holy Innocents, those children slaughtered by Herod as he searched for the child-king to slay him.
As Christ’s body, we tell the story. We assemble together the words, phrases, deeds, and people that make up the story. The fragments form a whole. Time is realized. The past, present, future, are drawn into this point of infinity, eternity, in Bethlehem two thousand years ago, when God intersected human history. And God intersects our own time too, today. He makes us whole. He draws all of the minutes and seconds of our lives, together in him, in his son, Jesus.
And this is why we say, Merry Christmas. The pieces come together. We become whole.