I grew up in Minnesota and this was the dark time of year, around the solstice, in the heart of winter. I remember that each year there was snow and the lakes were frozen enough for skating. I loved it. Winter was a time for play, for skating especially, but also for sledding and snowball fights, snow person building, snow forts, snow angels. We broke icicles off the eaves of the house and licked them. We bundled up in parkas and galoshes and walked everywhere.
Christmas came, of course. We knew nothing of the Solstice, and Kwanzaa was not yet on the calendar. Hanukkah was outside our experience. It was all Christmas. My Mom made cookies and lefse (I continue the lefse tradition – think Norwegian potato tortilla). For Christmas Eve, we had Swedish meatballs and lutefisk, rice pudding, and mashed potatoes. Then, after dinner that night, we went to church and then again on Christmas Day. Presents were opened Christmas Eve. My memories are nothing but good ones.
I don’t believe it anymore – the story in the New Testament – at least I don’t believe it as history, as fact. Still it remains a wonderful story, a story about a poor and young unmarried couple, without a place to stay, about the rich and powerful living in fear of losing what they have, of workers and animals and the miracle of birth, of hope and joy and wonder.
The story doesn’t have to be true to be true. Every night on which a child is born is a holy night, the saying goes. Each day the hope for peace and goodwill comes around to us. In the simple and natural things is where what matters most is found. In the bite of a sugar cookie, or a wrapped present, or a star at night, in a tree decorated with memories, in lights on a house, in songs sung by heart, in children come home, in the cold night – that is where some truths are found.
It is not so for everyone, of course. For the homeless, the lonely, for the sorrowful, for victims of violence – physical, emotional, or economic violence – it is not so good. And that is a part of the truth too, and part of our awareness that blessings come but not to all, that injustice reigns as much as justice, that violence is as common as goodwill. It is a complicated time of year. It was easier when I was young and innocent, but I am no longer either. Such is our fate.
Just remember: the story does not have to be true to be true. May all of you find blessings in your life; may peace and goodwill and joy be yours and with those you love. May those who suffer find relief, and may the foundations of the world shake as a child is born.
-Rev. Dr. Jim Nelson