15 Dec Advent: what the children taught me.
The simplest truths are the hardest to hold onto.
It was the school nativity this morning.
My children are too old to take part and I wasn’t sure if I could spare the time. But the excitement in the yard was infectious and I found myself walking round to the front of the building, entering through the main doors and taking my place with all the other parents in the hall.
The collection of angels wearing over-sized t-shirts adorned with tinsel sung of the glory of God. Some waved as they spotted their Mum or Dad in the packed assembly hall. My friend and I laughed as one child sang VERY loudly almost drowning out the rest of the choir. In front of me proud grandparents strained to get a good photo of their child (playing the part of sheep 2).
It was beautiful.
All of it.
The fluffed lines, the off-key singing, the home made costumes and the stilted reading of the scriptures.
The children beamed. We beamed back.
They looked adorable and were proud of their hard work, but for me this morning it was more than that.
It wasn’t about this particular assembly, or this collection of children, but this nativity spoke to me in ways I cannot adequately express. I have spent all day trying to find words to explain what I mean but the truth is on the edge of my peripheral vision and I have struggled to bring it into focus.
Something happened as the children sang the story of Jesus’ birth that bypassed my brain and heart and connected with the innermost part of me. I felt it in my gut and in my soul. I carried it with me through the day as I went about my chores. A distraction, a preoccupation, as though my brain knew the answer but couldn’t quite recall it.
When, later on in the morning, I heard the nativity described as a mythic story*, a bell rang clear and true inside me. The dots started connecting.
This word ‘mythic’ was not being used to denigrate or demean the story, because mythic stories are not fiction, or fairytale.
Mythic stories are stories that are more than literally true.
A mythic story is so true it can only be told using metaphor.
Like the sun, the brilliance of a story of this importance would be blinding if it was looked at directly, and so we use image and poetry, music and story to make sense of what is being revealed.
The ritual telling of this story, at this time of year, did to me what all rituals should do: it pointed me to a greater truth, a deeper understanding.
It reminded me of a truth I have always known but sometimes forget.
It reminded me of a truth that is more than literally true.
And what was this complex truth I have spent all day trying to discover? Something so simple the children on the stage knew it implicitly:
I am loved.
I am loved by a great love that broke through time and space, and squeezed itself into human flesh to show me that love wins. Not power or importance or strength or perfection or achievement or accolades or anything we can try and put in its place.
Only love wins.
And there was the truth right in front of my eyes: I am loved. And so are you.
And just in case you are thinking this is a convenient truth for me, a Jesus follower, I want you to know this is not just a truth for those who adhere to a certain code of conduct, or worship in a particular place. It is not just for people who do things how I do, or express themselves using the cultural and religious language I have been brought up with.
This is a truth for everyone, anywhere, without exception.
You are loved. And if you quieten yourself you will hear this truth being spoken over you too. It will resonate in your gut and in your soul.
You are loved.
I heard the story. I remembered.
And again I am the child on the stage wearing her tinsel crown who, spotting her Father** in the crowd, feels the warmth of his love for her and cannot help but beam back at him.
By the end of the assembly my cheeks hurt from smiling.
*I heard this idea in an excellent podcast where Alexander Shaia was being interviewed. You can find it here.
**I only used the word ‘Father’ because that is the most commonly used family term for God. I could have said: Mother, beloved, Messiah, rescuer, friend.