I don’t remember how old I was—10, 11?—but I remember as though it were yesterday sitting by our lighted Christmas tree, which stood beside the fireplace, in which glowed a fire freshly lit by my father. Alone with him in that flickering light I listened as he told of how his father built a fire in the family fireplace at Christmastime. And so a memory became a memory.
I remember services at the church and the voice of that congregation singing carols. I remember another church at our house, small and plastic with a light inside and glittery snow on its roof. I remember the angel atop the tree, the cookies and milk carefully set on Christmas Eve, and the creak of the kitchen door swinging behind us the next morning as my brother and I launched ourselves through the dining room toward the tree and gifts beyond.
I remember. That seems to be what we do this time of year. In fact, is there any time of year more weighted with memory and tradition than this one?
Sambo’s Christmas Gift, Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory, Dylan Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales—the memories of others, once read, blend with our own and become treasures to share and pass along. Memories upon memories, Christmas grows, a great oak (not a fir, not a pine) in our midst, and at the heart of the rings upon rings of memories the one story of birth and wonder and mystery, of angels and shepherds, of feed troughs and cattle lowing. We remember the story, and we remember remembering.
But here’s the strange thing about it all. The Christmas story, once remembered, ceases to be a memory. If it does not speak to our lives right now, and to our hopes and our future and our mission, then it is little more than one more pretty tale retold, one more batch of traditions consumed like so much comfort food.
What does it mean for our world today that Emmanuel, “God with us,” was born in the midst of poverty? What does it mean for you that the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, was as human as you? What does it mean that God should come to us now in the ordinariness of life, offering love, mercy and a WAY of life that is truth and grace? Forget remembering for a moment. What does this birth have to say to you today, in this moment, with life as it is, not as it was?
And so, remembering once more through services traditional and carols familiar, we will tell the ancient and glorious story. But listen … listen. The Word divine and living comes to you now, always now.