I’ve just had a wonderful weekend in the bosom of my birth family. Five of seven Prescott siblings spent time together at Lake McConaughy in the Nebraska sand hills. It has become a sort of tradition as we make our ways from eastern Colorado and eastern Nebraska to meet in the middle. It is the way we spend Christmas together, if not actually on Christmas day. The next generation and their significant others join us and are not too put off by the goofiness and teasing of those who are now the elders.
Yup. With Susan crossing over to her sixth decade in a few months, we are now officially a majority of sixty-somethings.
That seems weird as I contemplate the Christmases of our youth. Our gang of seven kids would descend upon Grandpa and Grandma Piskac’s home along with the cousins who are the children of my dad’s siblings. I can only remember it vaguely because I was so young, but I think my grandparents on that side must have been saints to invite such mayhem into their house. People were everywhere! As we got older, and grew to ten, it moved to our house. How those gatherings can still make me smile as I remember the fort of presents around the tree and Aunt Hon’s Christmas tree cake and Aunt Tillie’s box of perfect cookies. And people were everywhere! When Jana and I bought a house to ease the burden on our parents, the celebration moved to Chicago Street. Potluck food! More Christmas cookies! Even more cousins! People were everywhere!
I appreciate the quietness of Christmas now, as Jana, Steve and I will open our gifts on Christmas day after spending Christmas Eve at the candlelighting service at our church. The advent wreath will be fully lit: purple, purple, pink and purple, for hope, peace, joy and love. The center white candle will also glow with the incarnation, the presence we have anticipated and waited for these past weeks. The quiet singing of Silent Night, Holy Night, as the church family passes the light from candle to candle has come to represent for me the perfect experience of oh holy night, the night that Christ was born. Because it was quiet, right? Says so in the song.
I have come to believe that it is especially those moments, in the bosom of family gathered, whether birth family, adopted family or church family, that is the Christmas story of Christ’s birth. In traveling back and forth to the Middle East for almost ten years, I have been a grateful student of those of who live in that context. They live and raise families in the place where Christ was born. They introduced me to a scholar named Kenneth Bailey who gave me a whole new vision of how that holy night was experienced by the family of Jesus, the Immanuel, God-with-us. And I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a silent night!
We think of the words of Luke 2:7, “And she brought forth her firstborn son; and she wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn,” and believe that Jesus was born to his parents alone in the night, rejected by everyone. Oh, that innkeeper! How rude! But read that link and discover this word: kataluma. That is the Greek word used in the passage that is not the same word for inn used in the story of the Good Samaritan. It is a word that describes a part of a typical house of that place and time where guests would stay. At this time in the world, all were gathering for the census and people coming from all over would go to their ancestral homes for the count.
In other words, Joseph’s family’s home was packed! People everywhere! No room in the kataluma, because the house was stuffed! Middle Eastern hospitality says, “Family! Come in anyway! All we have left is the place where we brought the animals in to warm and be warm, but you are most welcome!”
That’s where Jesus was born…in the bosom of family. Most welcome.
“Most welcome” are two words I hear over and over as I travel to be in the bosom of family in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. Right now it is nine time zones ahead of me and the darkness of night has settled in there. Candles are being lit. Hymns are being sung. And the darkness of war and protest and violence does not overcome the light that is born this night. If I was there, I would be most welcome, and so would you. We would gather around that manger and marvel at the gift of God-with-us.
Jesus is born in the bosom of family. Oh come, let us adore him. You are most welcome.