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An Allegorical Christmas, Part 3 

The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. Isaiah 11:6

“Big things come in small packages,” we sometimes say. Regarding the Christmas season, we are often referring to jewelry, gift cards, and other items that may have great value belying their small size. The Christmas story tells of another small package – the birth of the Christ child. In Luke 2:10-11, the shepherds hear from an angel: “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people; to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

The story of the worship of a newborn — deemed as our Messiah before the child can even speak – is difficult for some to accept. Where does this part of the Christmas story leave those who doubt its historical validity? Fortunately, as with most of the Bible’s seminal teachings, there is a profound message in the story regardless of whether we accept it as fact. In the case of the boy King, there are at least two common misunderstandings: the deeper relevance of “a child” and the nature of Jesus’ kingdom.

The deeper aspect of smallness has to do with being childlike. This does not mean being in a child’s body, but perceiving with the openness of a child’s mind. Young children have few preconceived notions about life and about others. A childlike brain is like a sponge that soaks up everything around it, free of judgment or prejudice. As we age, and certainly by the time we are teenagers, many of us have our minds made up about most things in very divisive ways – I like this, I do not like that; that person is my friend; that person is my enemy. As adults, some of us simply solidify our adolescent biases. We close our minds to other options and influences and call it wisdom or steadfastness. Truly, it is neither. There is nothing wise about a closed mind. One lesson of the boy King is that we need to redevelop the openness and curiosity of a childlike mind.

As we consider God coming to earth as a baby, we are encouraged to remember that small is not insignificant. Meek does not mean weak. Caring for others does not include being abused by them. The peaceful imagery of Isaiah – of the wolf living with the lamb, and the calf with the lion – must be perceived through the mind of a child to be believed. The story reads more like a Disney movie than an adult narrative. With our fixed vision, there is no hope for peace. We cannot imagine the possibilities because that type of imagination requires a child. “A little child shall lead them.” Yes, a little child shall lead us, but that little child is not insignificant, weak, or an easy target for abuse. That little child is a King, and we must become like little children to gain the wisdom to follow.

Come home to church this Sunday. Allegorical Christmas blessings!

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Broken Hearts, Open Minds 

We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is open wide to you. There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. In return – I speak as to children – open wide your hearts also. –2 Corinthians 6:11-13

When I was in my early teens, I was enamored with a girl who lived down the street. We started “dating,” which meant I was allowed to come over and sit with her on her front porch once or twice a week. We could also walk a short distance down the street, as long as we remained in view of her mother’s front window. I was devastated when she broke up with me. She gave me my first broken heart.

In his book A Hidden Wholeness, Parker Palmer considers broken hearts. He writes, “There are at least two ways to understand what it means to have our hearts broken. One is to imagine the heart broken into shards and scattered about. The other is to imagine the heart broken open into a new capacity – a process that is not without pain but one that many of us would welcome. As I stand in the tragic gap between reality and possibility, this small, tight fist of a thing called my heart can break open into greater capacity to hold more of my own and the world’s suffering and joy, despair and hope.”

Palmer’s latter definition is reminiscent of the Christian concept of being born again. The initial birth process is difficult. There is no reason to believe being born again will be easy, either. Letting go of beliefs we have long held to, once we discover them to be no longer helpful, is not easy. We must let go of what is known as we reach for something unknown – unknown, yes, but full of possibilities.

Brokenness is a central theme in Christianity. Sometimes our old ways of thinking need to be broken open in order to allow new concepts and ideas to reshape us into more useful vessels for the Spirit. We can be broken voluntarily, meaning we willingly offer ourselves to be broken. More often, at least for me, we are broken by unforeseen circumstances, often of our own making. Our lives are sailing along smoothly, and we feel like we are in control and then, BAM! Something happens that rocks our world and breaks us in such a way that we cannot reassemble our life back the way it was. We find ourselves in a forced career change, a loved one leaves us, or a medical condition inspires a reevaluation of our priorities. Rebirth is not easy and is not without pain, but is ultimately necessary and good. Palmer refers to “the tragic gap between reality and possibility.” If we are to move beyond today’s reality and approach tomorrow’s possibility, we must be willing to let go of yesterday. We should not always be in such a rush to reassemble our broken hearts. And perhaps our hearts should be reassembled with something less adhesive than super glue, leaving them more easily rebroken. A closed heart leads to a closed mind, and a closed mind leads to a small and closed life.

Come home to church this Sunday. Come and be broken with others.

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