December 1974. Our first Christmas together. We are young, in love, and mostly broke. There are no presents under the tree. In fact, there is no tree, just a hand-me-down creche that I pull from a tattered Sears box stuffed in the back of the closet. My sweetie plays a Dylan-esque version of Silent Night on his guitar, and I sing along while unwrapping Joseph and Mary and the smiling baby Jesus with the golden halo circling above his blond curls.
Silent Night, Holy Night. All is calm. All is bright.
I carefully shred a brown paper bag to give the manger scene a hay-filled barn look, then place the cattle who are lowing, the sheep who are following the shepherds, and the star that is guiding all to the beautiful babe in their proper places. Next – the wise men, who I line up, of course, in order of their gifts: guy with the treasure box first - gold... funny lantern looking carrier next – frankincense...black guy with the perfume bottle last – myrrh.
Holy infant so tender and mild…
The guitar tempo slows as I go for the heavenly peace high note. My sweet serenader stops playing.
“The wise men weren't there, you know.” he says, looking at me with a touch of smugness that does NOT make him attractive to me at all.
"Ha Ha," I say. "They followed the star and found the babe lying in a manger and brought him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh." I try my best to mimic the smug look.
“Actually, the wise men were sent out by Herod after the buzz about a new Savior hit the streets...remember? 'Go and find the child so I can worship him too?’” The words are familiar…his mocking tone is not. “You don't think they flew on red-eyes to get to Bethlehem, do you?”
I glare at my beautiful, boy-faced sweetheart. And I tell him to shut up. “The wise men are always there,” I say. “Every church in America lines up the wise men on front lawns and altars. Surely you are not suggesting the church – God's Holy Church – has been misrepresenting the story for all of history.”
“Yes,” he says with confidence. “That is precisely what I'm suggesting.” And then he goes on to announce that the Holy family’s lodging was more like a cave than a barn so I can probably toss the paper shreds and sprinkle some gravel from the driveway around instead.
A huge fight ensues. There is swearing and a bit of name-calling. There is a frustrated swing at Wise Man Number 2, which renders him giftless. There is pouting and re-packing the creche and no good-night kiss.
I feel quite betrayed.
35 Christmases have come and gone...
We have found an honest group of people who find their way to God through the stories of Jesus. As a community of faith, we have worked hard together to turn away from the lies churches tell. We do not believe there is only one path to the heart of the Holy. We do not believe a church should make decisions on behalf of pregnant women in crisis or people who come to this country in crisis or registered voters. We do not think God hates gay people or Muslim people or even the people who hate us because of our inclusive views.
But, come Christmas eve, danged if we don't find the church altar flanked by those wise men standing in the queue with their gifts, ready to gaze into the face of our sweet little Anglo baby Jesus with the gold-painted halo.
It's not a lie, I whisper to my husband every year over the first measures of Silent Night...it's tradition.
Peace all. And Merry Christmas.