I learned to read early. I wasn’t athletic, couldn’t see very well, and tended to be fussy. But reading I could do. I loved to read. I loved to be transported to an entirely different world where I could learn or experience something utterly new, or wholly different from myself. I loved the world of A Wrinkle In Time, the wonder of the universe and the fantastic possibilities that seemed—in that book at least—open to a girl protagonist.
Christians have from the beginning had a tradition filled with stories. In our New Testament we begin our journey of Christian faith not with the instructive letters of Paul or Peter but with the wide rolling landscape of Matthew’s birth story of Jesus.
Matthew’s story of Jesus’s birth introduces us to Jesus by folding him into layers of story, after story, after story. Matthew’s is not just the story of one boy. His is a story of Abraham, Isaac, Judah & Tamar, Boaz & Ruth, David & Bathsheba, Jehoshaphat, Amos, Joseph & Mary. Jesus landed in the stable as if he had been tossed onto five thousand folds of blanket, each layer, each fold, a story to cradle him.
Welcome to our earth, little one.
All our babies are born this way. We are all born into stories. Some of us have stories that are better known than others, but God knows each of them in all their folds, tucks, tears and complexities. And God loves us.
No wonder we are a storytelling people.
Something about stories and telling stories must be essential to how we are created. Somehow the structures of our brains need this mix of reality and imagination, facts and creativity, in order to shape our present and potential being. Matthew knows this, too. He weaves story after story together, speaking of Mary out of the mouth of the prophet Isaiah, two people across gender, time, and geographic distance and yet deeply embedded together in this one story of God.
Luke as well begins his Gospel with the story of children born. First Luke promises an “carefully ordered account,” and then we discover that Luke’s idea of accounting is far from charts and quantitative facts, but instead a story, the story of a man in the temple who had a vision of a baby but could not speak of it. This baby, this first baby, was not Jesus at all, yet, but first comes John the Baptist. And so again, in the telling of our Christ child’s birth, we find him wrapped in layer after layer of stories of “accounting.”
Our stories move us and help us figure out who we are. Storytelling helps us process grief, wonder, loss, joy, trauma…all the big things of life. Our stories are shared. We share the events and then we share together in the telling and re-telling, over dinner tables, at the fire, during hunting trips, at the bedside of the dying. We are all a storytelling people.
I learned to read early and I have always love stories. I remember my favorite books, including Billy and Blaze, Nancy Drew, Where the Red Fern Grows, Little Women. I remember my children’s love of stories. My oldest son loved I Can Read with My Eyes Shut, my daughter loved Go Dog, Go! while my youngest son’s favorite was Rumples and Tumbles Go to the Country. I read those books with them over and over and over again. I miss it.
Reading was a big part of our family life. Our home was and is still filled with books. But that is not how it is for everyone. There are many families who do not have extra to buy books, move too often to keep them, or simply do not have the time to read. There are many reasons, but those of us with access to books can help.
We chose the theme of Storybook Christmas this year because we believe every child benefits from the stories of their family, homeland, and culture. We believe there is something deeply healing and whole about sitting down with a child to read. It is a path that will enfold them in the layers of all that is possible in their lives.
As we at Camas celebrate this Advent and await Christmas, I encourage you to get into the ‘Storybook Spirit’ with your child, your nieces, nephews, neighbors. Buy them a book! Or, Participate in our book drive. And as you sit at the foot of the tree this Christmas, help them imagine what it might have been like for a tiny baby laid in a manger so many years ago.
Blessings to each and all of you for a Merry Christmas.