January 8th, 2010 by rpjansen
This past year Ashley celebrated Christmas with her 8th annual Christmas Eve service in a wonderful, open-air country side chapel. It was a beautiful service and Ashley gave me permission to post her reflection. It may seem a little late but I think you will agree it deserves a read. Enjoy. -Rob
Christmas Eve 2009
I wanted to begin our service with a story. This is it:
“When the founder of Hasidic Judaism, the great Rabbi Israel Shem Tov, saw misfortune threatening the Jewish people, it was his custom to go into a certain part of the forest to meditate. There he would light a fire, say a special prayer, and the miracle would occur and the misfortune would be averted.
Later when his disciple, the celebrated Maggid of Mezritch, had occasion for the same reason to intercede with heaven, he would go to the same place in the forest and say: “Master of the Universe, listen! I do not know how to light the fire, but I am still able to say the prayer,” and again the miracle would happen.
Still later, another Rabbi (Moshe-leib of Sasov) journeyed into the forest and said, “I do not know how to light the fire. I do not know the prayer, but I know the place and this must be sufficient.” It was sufficient and the miracle happened.
Then it fell to a later Rabbi Israel (of Rizhin) to overcome misfortune for his people. Sitting in his armchair, his head in his hands, he spoke (to God): “I am unable to light the fire, and I do not know the prayer, and I cannot even find the place in the forest. All I can do is to tell the story, and this must be sufficient.
And it was sufficient.
For God made man because he loves stories.”
God, the creator, is a storyteller, and we’re made in his (made in her) image. We are storytellers. All of us. It’s in our blood, in our genes, in our psychic make-up. There’s a great quote: “The shortest distance between a human being and the truth is a story.” And the Native American elder, Black Elk, when asked, in reference to a story his people told, if that was how it really had happened? The Lakota tribal leader replied, “Whether or not that is how it happened? I cannot say, but if you listen to the story, you’ll hear the truth in it.”
The mind often wants to argue the facts so it can avoid taking responsibility for the truth. Scholars vigorously debate various details of the Christmas story. Some believe Christ must’ve been born in a cave not a barn. Many doubt the plausibility of a virgin birth. Others argue that December 25th is not an accurate recording. And still, tonight all over the world in churches and homes and airports and hotels, people are wishing each other a Merry Christmas and feeling, perhaps mysteriously so, a little kinder, a little warmer, a little more connected.
I see and hear a lot of weariness in people, too. Stress and fear co-opt a lot of our time. They take up residence in our minds and weave stories of our impending failure, squalor and loneliness. And you know what I think when I hear these stories: boring. Seriously like that’s as imaginative as we get? Life doesn’t work out the way I’d planned and so I quietly suffer and curse a god I may not even believe in. That’s pretty uncreative, isn’t it? Trust me, within us all there’s a deeper, more meaningful story that yearns to be born and it’s full of challenges, heartbreaks, redemptive grace, breathtaking beauty and inspired love. So here’s what I want to offer you today:
We all love stories because we are stories. Our life is the unfolding of our story and, when we invite God into our lives, when we ask him for help, guidance, forgiveness and strength, he does respond. Maybe not in the way we expect. I imagine Mary didn’t, couldn’t foresee some of the hardships she would be asked to endure in order to protect and raise her child. But she trusted God. Her love and faith and willingness to play the part that God created for her must’ve dazzled and, at times, frightened her beyond anything she could’ve imagined. But she did it for love. She did it for God.
I’m completely disarmed by the accessibility of God in the Rabbi’s story. Every time I read it, I’m moved. There are no hoops to jump through in order to get the Divine’s attention. Nothing is required. No fire, no prayer, no secret location in the forest. Those things were helpful to the human. It was the “custom” not of God but of Rabbi Israel Shem Tov to steep himself in a ritualized form of divine communication. He wanted to go to the forest and light the fire and pray the prayer. But God shows up with or without the rituals. God is here, now – with us and all around us. Why? Why does God keep showing up? We make mistakes, we lose our tempers, we lie to ourselves and others and still God keeps showing up, dressed in ordinary miracles, whenever we ask. Because: God. Is. Love. and that’s what love does. Love shows up, when we allow it, and the real story gets told.
God gave us Jesus and the story of Jesus because he loves us, and he wants us to lean into the mystery and the power that infuse all our stories. God wants to collaborate with you, with me, with all of us, in telling our true, beautiful stories. We don’t have to be a certain age or have a certain job or make a certain amount of money for God to care about us. He/she loves us the way most of us love our children – fully, wholly and completely. Children don’t have to earn our love; we give it for free. God loves us for free. How’s that for a remarkable story.
I spent many hours this week trying to craft an inspired reflection for today. I felt this need to ramp up the Christmas spirit and really stir you all into a festive, grateful and awe-struck space, but the words wouldn’t come. I managed to eek out a paragraph here or there, peppered with some cool quotes, but nothing really landed in my soul. You’re trying too hard, that still, small voice within me said. Stop forcing this. Breathe, relax and release. And as I exhaled, an intense feeling of love, of being loved, enveloped me. In the quiet space between my thoughts, I felt a deep peace, I’ve come to know as God, flow through me.
In that moment, a Five for Fighting song called The Riddle bubbled up inside me, and I was reminded of their lyric:
There are secrets that we still have left to find
There have been mysteries from the beginning of time
There are answers we’re not wise enough to see
He said… You looking for a clue I Love You free…
I invite you now to enter into the Christmas story. Maybe you’ll hear something you haven’t before, maybe not. Maybe you’ll hear the truth in it, maybe not. It doesn’t matter. You’re free to experience whatever you experience. God gives you this story for free. What you make of it is up to you.