a blog about faith and life by Rev. Cindy Maddox

Posts tagged ‘Christmas’

Inside the Stable

IMG_0577One of my favorite family traditions from my childhood occurred each year early in the Christmas season. (Now I would call it Advent, but in the evangelical church we didn’t call it Advent. I guess we weren’t much on waiting.) Setting up the nativity scene was always the most important part of our decorating. But it was more than decorating; it was faith formation. My family would gather together, and as the adults read the Christmas story from the Bible, the kids would put all the nativity figurines into place. Each year we had to ask which way was East, so that we could be authentic. And, after breaking a wing from falling off the top, the angel then got placed on a nail driven into the top of the stable.

But as a child, one thing always bothered me. I placed everybody in the stable very carefully; but the next day, everybody had been moved. The cow and donkey were now beside the stable, and the wise men were kneeling before the manger but on the top of the Ethan Allen table, not in the stable. It didn’t take me long to figure out that my mom moved everything after we went to bed. She wanted it to look nice. I wanted there to be room for everybody. I didn’t want anyone left out in the cold. Not even the cow.

When I left home, I continued the family tradition with my hand-me-down nativity set. I often invited close friends to join me, so now I have memories of a wide variety of people helping me tell the story and move all the figurines into place . . . people who have come and gone, as friends tend to do, but people who were important to me at the time. They are beautiful memories, even if some of them are painful. There is always room for both.

Then there was the first year that Jackie and I were married. When we continued the tradition as our new family, Jackie asked, “Where’s the little drummer boy?” I laughed. “The little drummer boy is not in the Christmas story,” I said, probably condescendingly. She insisted that the little drummer boy was a very important part of the story, and he should be included in every nativity scene. I teased her about it until she finally explained to me that the little drummer boy was important to her because she had grown up poor, and she knew what it was like to not have anything to give. The next year she got a drummer boy for Christmas, and he is part of our nativity set even though he doesn’t match. And he is always inside the stable.

This year we set up our nativity scene the day after Thanksgiving. That’s earlier than usual, but we had a very special little boy with us, and we wanted him to be part of the tradition. As I read the story, he happily named all the animals as we put them in place, and he carefully repeated “Baby Jesus” on cue. Then Jackie added the story of the little drummer boy, and our little Dude put him in the stable, too. When we were all finished, he studied the characters for a while. Then he drummed on the table. We laughed and said, “We have our own little drummer boy.”

And then I cried . . . because I don’t know if he will be with us for another Christmas, or if he will become one more person who has come and gone. Either way, he will always have a place in our memories, and in the stable. Nobody gets left out in the cold.

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An Upside Down Christmas

I was in sixth grade and my sister was in ninth when my family moved from northeastern Ohio to Miami, Florida. We moved in December, just in time for Christmas. And everything in Miami was just wrong.

They put Christmas lights on palm trees. The advertising flyers showed Santa in shorts. The youth Christmas party was a pool party. It was just wrong.

That was the year my sister and I did something highly unusual: we united for a common cause. We were not going to tolerate that mangy old artificial tree my grandmother had given to us when she was tired of it. After all, our parents had moved us to the very end of the earth, and we would never again have a white Christmas—unless you counted the sand. And that was just wrong.

We put our collective feet down, and with reluctance our parents agreed to purchase a live tree. The only problem with live Christmas trees in Miami is that they aren’t exactly local, which makes them very expensive. I can still remember the look on my parents’ faces when they saw the price. $49.99 for a Christmas tree? This was 1975. According to the inflation calculator I found, that’s $210.21 today. We were a one-income family. Besides, when my dad was growing up on a farm in West Virginia, he used to just go into the woods and shoot one. $49.99 for a Christmas tree? That was just wrong.

Although money was tight, my parents knew what their daughters needed. Our worlds had been turned upside down. Christmas felt upside down. If having a live tree would make it better, they would find a way to buy us a live tree.

Subsequent years in Miami were easier than that first year, but Christmas always felt weird. To me, it always felt like an upside down Christmas.

In recent years, upside down Christmases became something of a fashion trend … or at least upside down Christmas trees did. Have you seen them? The upside down Christmas trees? They are designed to be stood or hung upside down. The advantages are that ornaments show better, the tree fits better in small spaces, and there’s more room under the tree for presents. An article I read online said they’re all the rage this year—although the article was undated so I have no idea what year “this year” might have been.

Upside down Christmas trees. My apologies to anybody who has one, but that’s just wrong.

But, in a strange way, they are kind of appropriate, I guess . . . because the Christmas story is all about turning things upside down.

A young teenage girl is entrusted with heaven’s greatest gift.

A young man marries her even though his religion tells him to stone her.

The King of Kings is born in a barn.

The heavenly birth announcement goes not to the noble and elite but to shepherds, the lowliest of the low (not to mention the stinkiest of the stinky).

By entering human history in this way, God identified with the poor, the powerless, and the oppressed. And to many people, that was just wrong.

To many people today, that’s still wrong, but God is still doing it. God still welcomes the poor, the powerless, and the oppressed. And we darn well better, too, if we intend to do that whole “following in the ways of Jesus” thing.

Yes, it’s a world turned upside down. But if we do it we just might hear an angel choir sing of peace on earth, good will to all.

A joyful season?