Things I learned this Christmas

Several years ago while I was teaching Canadian History (not nearly as dull as you might think!), I had a lesson plan that included the “Huron Carol” (which you can read here or listen to here (in Wendat, French and English – English starting at 2:13, I think).  It was written by Jesuit Priest Father Brebeuf for the Huron people, for whom he later died, and it retells the story of Christ’s birth as the Huron (who knew themselves as the Wendat) might have understood it.  I put the lyrics on an overhead for my students to read as they listened, and then asked if anyone could connect the Huron story to the Christian/Biblical account (for instance, “log of broken bark” would be the stable; hunters would be the shepherds, etc).  The student who retold it started with the virgin birth, and another student gaped and said, “You mean, people believe a virgin had a baby???”  That student’s amazement at the story of Mary and Joseph and Jesus really struck me, especially since, having heard it all my life, I often don’t see the incredibleness of Christ’s birth.

Many writers and directors have created films that retell the nativity story, but none have been as powerful or well-done as Tony Jordan’s The Nativity produced by the BBC in 2010.  It stays in detail pretty much to the biblical account, but includes some of the emotions that would have taken place in the in-betweens not talked of in the Bible – of Mary’s doubting (hard for her to doubt, eventually, as her burgeoning belly proves it’s true), of Joseph’s total betrayal, of the despair of Mary’s parents at their unmarried daughter’s pregnancy, of the rejection by family and probable loss of status and respect for Joseph, of his questions even after his dream.  In fact, the majority of the story dwells not in the miraculous but in the earthly heartache that would have been experienced by all involved.  Mary’s doubting turns to faith – but that faith still faces fear and rejection and loss and loneliness.  It is a profoundly human and beautiful rendering of the story and one I still contemplate.

Two things in particular have stood with me over these Christmas weeks and past.  The first is that that first Christmas was not necessarily lovely, serene, or joyful; that our Christmas full of joy and hope and beauty stems from the humbleness of Christ’s birth and all of the fear and despair (and hope and faith) spreading from it.  I know many people who face Christmas with tremendous grief, who see the lights and trees and hear the sentimental music and don’t live in the joy that others celebrate – and in that, feel very alone.  And I have really been struck by the fact that we are not alone, much though we may feel it – that we have a God who understands from the beginning our feelings of sadness, loss, and fear, and that the Bible is full of such stories – stories where often the human emotions aren’t expressed but were most certainly felt.

The second is that God is indeed sovereign.  I have been following, with much heartache, a family story of unimaginable trauma that started just before Christmas and still has no answers.  And in this story, I have been tremendously humbled.  I have not made it secret that my faith has foundered in these trying times of Aliyah’s diagnosis and the months since; in raw honesty I have found comfort and some hope.  But this family who is now suffering have demonstrated to me what true faith is and what true hope is.  Such a hope as they have shown, even in the unknowing, is deep, inspiring, eternal.  Sara and I pray often for the little girl in this family, and one of the things we talk about is how sometimes God’s workings don’t feel good in the moment, but He has a plan, He is being glorified, and He is still good.  I’m ashamed to admit that while I’ve taught this verbally to Sara, I have not necessarily lived it in my own thoughts, prayers, and life.

I still remember, in the hospital, those first few days and weeks after Aliyah’s diagnosis.  In spite of everything, I had a deep and abiding understanding that God had allowed this and that it would be worked for good – beautiful good – in Aliyah’s life and indeed in our whole family’s life.  And even when I questioned and doubted and feared, I had a strange gut feeling, deep down, that God was and is working something for good.  Even when I imagine the hard times ahead, I know (and I can’t explain how) that this is a part of God’s story in Aliyah and in us, and in that knowing there is a hope that I have allowed to lay dormant.  Well, no more.

I choose now to live in hope.  To walk in the hope of Aliyah’s joyful life, of Sara’s compassion, and especially of God’s plan.  Of his great and glorious plan – a plan that is to redeem and renew and refresh, that has love and eternity in mind, that carries the greatest hope we could ever imagine.  To remember that faith does not mean never doubting, fearing or suffering, but means facing doubt and fear and suffering through the eyes of hope and eternity.

That is, after all, the beauty of the nativity.  A hard now for a glorious eternity, faith in the face of doubt and fear, and a God who knows it all, loves it all,
and never stops working.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Elesha
    Dec 31, 2011 @ 05:56:23

    wow Crystal. This is beautiful, and so true. Thank you for being so open and sharing your thoughts and the things you’re learning. Would you mind if I shared this blog with Heather and Trevor? They won’t be able to read it now but I know when they can they will really appreciate reading your thoughts. love you!


  2. Crystal
    Feb 04, 2012 @ 07:02:48

    Thank you, Elesha. Feel free to share with whomever (it IS public, after all…something I often have to remind myself before I press “publish”…)


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