“The road out of Bethany threw a tawny girdle around the hill they called the Mount of Olives and the little parties came up slowly out of the east leading assess with dainty dark feet toward the splendor of Jerusalem.”
And so begins my favorite Christmas read, Jim Bishop’s classic chronicle of The Day Christ Was Born (HarperCollins, 1959. HarperOne 2004.). An insightful historical account interwoven with captivating narrative, it’s one of those rare books worth another read. And next year, another!
Bishop’s rendition always has a centering effect, drawing me into Advent with holy reverence. Based upon diligent research, it is rich with cultural and scriptural perspective. And to some extent, as he readily acknowledges, it is the result of an informed imagination. It’s a quick read but wonderful preparation for Christmas.
Other renditions of this oft-told story speak powerfully — most especially in musical lyrics. I collect Christmas songs like some people collect mismatched socks. Among several new (to me) finds this season is Labor of Love. Written by Andrew Peterson, from the album Behold the Lamb of God (2009), it is a poignant perspective on Christ’s birth. Close your eyes and listen in on an achingly beautiful rendition.
“It was not a silent night / There was blood on the ground / You could hear a woman cry / In the alleyways that night / On the streets of David’s town
And the stable was not clean / And the cobblestones were cold / And little Mary full of grace / With the tears upon her face / Had no mother’s hand to hold
It was a labor of pain / It was a cold sky above / But for the girl on the ground in the dark / With every beat of her beautiful heart / It was a labor of love …”
Painful, cold, dirty and dark — something different from traditional imagery of a silent night, a calm birth, a quiet Babe. Who really knows? I am not disturbed by missing pieces in this story. In considering different perspectives, pondering the possibilities, I also slow down enough to reflect upon the wondrous love of God.
Canadian artist, Carolyn Arends, eloquently writes and sings of An Irrational Season (2004). It’s one of my all-time favorite Christmas albums. Everything spins out from that incredible admission:
“This is the irrational season / When love blooms bright and wild / For if Mary had been filled with reason / There’d have been no room for the child…”
Perhaps there is nothing less rational than the Christmas story. It is the fulfillment of centuries of promises and prophecies, the missing piece of the puzzle. On its’ face, it is a plan so preposterously unbelievable that even Mary exclaimed, “How can this be?” At its’ depths, it is so decidedly believable that the entire world takes note. It is the piece that fits perfectly for those who know what they are looking for. And then, everything else falls into place. That is, after all, keeping faith: we must be willing to take the leap.
“Faith leaps the gap between obvious, tangible, provable, and that which we also know to be true. There is no explanation for faith. It is only to be found in the evidence of things not seen.” (from Keeping Faith, October 5, 2012; Hebrews 11:1)
This advent season, I’m striving to listen quietly and wonder deeply, anticipating the arrival of the Christ in Christmas.
~ René Morley