Waiting and fidelity are closely connected.
My favorite Christmas book is The Donkey’s Dream, which is about the journey Mary and Joseph made to Bethlehem. Meant for young children, Barbara Helen Berger’s story is a brilliant and subtle work of theology. Or perhaps antitheology, as it allows simple images to tell us more than words can convey about what the incarnation signifies.
We have many defenses against hearing the Christmas readings and taking them to heart.
John is trying to describe an event, an advent, an epiphany without parallel.
On Christmas day we join choirs of angels and raise the strains of “Joy to the World!” Our children sing sweetly of the little Lord Jesus so peacefully asleep on the hay that he doesn’t cry out when animals wake him with off-key parts to the lullaby. But then the music changes drastically. We hear wailing and loud lamentation. Ancient mother Rachel weeps inconsolably over the loss of her children. Must we listen to this? Have we no season to block out the sounds of grief?
In the pattern of Jesus’ growing is the pattern to which each of us is called. Even the irony that he first became lost before he experienced this first growing—even this has meaning for every Christian. We live at a time when it is easy to feel lost. Our time and world are daunting and even defeating. But that very lostness can be the prelude to our personal growing.
I agree with Bill Moyers, who says that poetry is the most honest language he hears today. Poetry is the instrument of the prophet. If you want to discover the real news of the day, turn off the cable news networks and take a trip to your bookshelf or the local library and read some poetry. Poetry exposes truth and stays anchored to it.
Picture the old man with the baby in his arms. He stands chuckling with giddy joy, or perhaps he gazes with streaming tears on his cheeks, or is lost in transfixed wonder. He says that this is enough now, he is ready to die. He has seen salvation and he can depart in peace. But what has he seen, really?