All of us have antennae. We watch for things, hoping that what we see and hear is more truthful than not. And when we sense that something is being said that is not quite true, we cringe; we may even cry out in dismay or disgust.
I am that way about Christmas. While I love the heart of what it means, I hate much of what it has come to mean. Whether our Grinches are from Dr. Seuss, Charles Dickens or Madison Avenue, we have a sense of what matters, and what doesn’t, of what has to be true and what doesn’t—and we hope against hope that no one tries to steal its meaning. Crass commercialism of every sort, greedy self-absorption of all kinds, privatizing versions of the story, in their own ways they threaten the promise that Isaac Watts offered in “Joy to the World,” my favorite carol. If we have ears to hear, we might be able to understand that Christ comes to “make his blessings flow far as the curse is found.”
So I am always suspicious of lesser visions of the Incarnation. If we are not talking about a cosmos in need of redemption, then I am less interested. Men and women, boys and girls, flora and fauna, sex, money, freedom, cities and societies, the arts, politics, science, the sky and the stars, and on and on. Dylan got it right a long time ago: “Everything is broken.” Everything, everything, everything.
This past week I ordered from the best bookseller in America, Byron Borger of Hearts and Minds Bookstore, “Song of the Stars: A Christmas Story,” by the remarkably gifted storyteller, Sally Lloyd Jones. Byron had promised in a review of the book that it was about a bigger story, one that drew the whole of creation into the Incarnation, and that caught my heart. The book is illustrated with the paintings of Alison Joy, and they are delightful, and rich, and true, stretching the story far into the wide world—which is where it has to go if it is to be taken seriously. If it is not true as far as the curse is found, then what’s its meaning?
I bought a book for my grandchildren in Sicily, whose daddy has long loved animals, so much so that he doctors them now as a veterinarian. Almost every page is full of wonderfully-imagined creatures of every shape and size, all eager to understand what is happening in Bethlehem that starry night. And I bought it for some young friends who live closer at hand, whom I love very much. I was at hand on the days of their births, and so am implicated in their well-being for years to come.
The page whose illustration I have included here puts it this way: “The animals stood around his bed. And the whole earth and all the stars and sky held its breath…. ‘The One who made us has come to live with us!’”
A cosmos was created, a cosmos is broken, and a cosmos needs redemption. Even the animals know that, groaning as they do in eager hope for everything to be made new. If that is not the hope of Christmas, then, quite candidly, I am not very interested. Everything is too broken, badly horribly broken, if the Babe of Bethlehem is not born to make his blessings flow as far as the curse is found. If that is the song of the stars, then I am listening.