As a child in elementary school I remember listening to Christmas music played on the record player next to the fire place. Bing Crosby and Andy Williams were juxtaposed with Roger Wagner and the Dale Warland Singers. In many instances the same songs; one version pop and the other classic carols. Years ago my father purchased a Bose system and ditched his records. I was the beneficiary of the record collection.
This past weekend I pulled out the collection of well over two dozen albums. While I have downloaded many of them as Mp3’s, there is something about the shape, texture, and scope of a record and the jacket cover. As the needle glides over the vinyl I pick up the cover and can actually read it. The size affords the opportunity for information and often story. I was intrigued by the following:
“In our restless age, the carols serve to reconnect us with the long chain of faith and tradition that stretches back into the antiquity from which many of the carols stem. Christmas carols have provoked a great deal of scholarship, and we now know that some of them had anything but Christian origins…just as the mistletoe, holly, and yule log, which now firmly entrenched Christian symbols, were, to begin with, part of pagan ritual.”
Things are not always as they seem. When we allow ourselves to step out of our “Me-universe” and connect ourselves to history, we find that our story is merely one that connects to stories of others. While our world-view seems very real there is more going on than meets the eye. We are an ever-changing, evolving people. Yet there are threads of consistency and even clarity. There’s a deeper story.
At this time of year much of the world seeks to connect our story with a grater meta-narrative, the essence of which provides grounding and hope, even clarity for faith. One such Christmas tradition that has stood the test of time is the creche: the symbol of Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus in a manger. The jacket cover reminded me of the story:
St. Francis of Assisi set up the first creche in his parish church at Graecia, Italy, attempting to humanize the Christmas story and bring it closer to the experience and understanding of his parishoners. The custom of decorating the creche, along with the bringing of gifts and the singing of special Nativity songs which accompanied it, quickly spread throughout Europe and, blending with the pre-existing winter solstice customs of the various lands, emerged as the Christmas ceremony we know today.
There’s a deeper story. St. Francis wanted the people to “get it.” As a passionate man he wanted people to somehow move the story of the birth of Jesus from their head to their heart; to make it real.
Saint Bonaventure, Francis’s biographer, said of the scene, “Many brothers and good people came at Francis’s bidding, and during the night the weather also was beautiful. Many lights were kindled, songs and hymns were sung with great solemnity so that the whole wood echoed with the sound , and the man of God stood by the manger, filled with the utmost joy, and shedding tears of devotion and compassion..sang the gospel and preached to the people on the Nativity of Christ our King, and whenever he pronounced his name with infinite tenderness he called Him the ‘little Babe of Bethlehem.'” (Nesta Robeck, The Christmas Crib, Milwaukee: Bruce Publishing Company, 1956, p. 45-47.)
What if…we took a moment to reflect on the deeper story?