And she brought forth her firstborn Son and she wrapped him in swaddling bands, and she laid him in a manger because there was no place for them where they might lodge. Luke 2:7, Aramaic Bible in Plain English (©2010)
All is still in the house on this Christmas Eve. Here in my sister’s house we are surrounded by familiar things, by things from our Christmases of many years. They are the things that we see each year. The mangers, the Christmas village with stores and houses and a train, the beautiful red and gold bows, the poinsettia and the candles and the garlands and the lights. These things are imbued with memories brought forward from one year to the next with each successive each year adding to the collected memories creating an unbroken line of our family story
Just as we have each year we add to the blown glass ornaments of our grandmother who hung them on her tree at 100 years ago, we add to the nativities of our mothers and the trains of our sibling and the sweet, wobbly painting of a plaster Christmas ornament made by a 6 year old.
This year we add to the narrative the story of the fire that consumed our home and all of its contents. Our things have the memory of being and the memory of being gone.That is the story we add. To my sister’s antique bird ornament that was the pair to ours, we add the story of the one that does not exist. Her bird must take on the story of two.
As my sister’s Christmas ornaments were unwrapped for the tree, stories were told. I realized that our Christmas things are just rich in memories as they were before they were burned. They have become pure memories now as the tangible thing did not pass forward through the fire like our memories did. Not being able to hold them each year and inspect how they survived the past year will change the memory of them. Details of the story will be lost but the story will continue and stay strong. Replacement items put on the mantle of the original and accept the additional memories we make with them. New things will acquire memories of where they came from and how they came into our lives. They will begin the collection of family stories that will grow in them.
This year to my sister’s things we added the memory of “we have one like this, we had one like that.” It is good to be surrounded by things that we know. It is good that we add to their story. Their presence announces Christmas and kindles the flame in the heart that is different from the flames of our hungry fire that consumed our home. It kindles the flame of the fire of the Holy Spirit which is just as hungry but for creation of good and peace in the world.
This is our first Christmas without a place to lodge that that is our own. We have a place to be, like Mary and Joseph on this night when Jesus was born, but it is not home just as the stable was not home for them. It is like the stable for Mary and Joseph, it is a place to witness eternity in creation. It is a place stripped of the familiar. It is a place where pain shows and love responds. It is a place to rest our souls while we gather our strength to move forward and like Jesus, wax strong and grow in wisdom.