First Parish has a great Nativity set. The Wise Men and camels are fabulous; there is a goat which managed to make the cut and stay with the sheep; we even have a poor man, complete with smudged face, kneeling to present his alms to the Baby Jesus. When I saw it come out of the box last Sunday afternoon, I knew I wanted to talk with the children about the manger scene over the next two Sundays. They have a pageant on the 21st, and our 4 p.m. Christmas Eve service will be attended by many, many townspeople who never attend otherwise, taking in the Live Nativity out front just beforehand.
People tend to take the church for granted sometimes. I remember interviewing at Small Church and talking with the Search Committee about church growth. One member said, "I bet a lot of people say this is their church, but they only show up for our yard sales." I'm sure in Freeport, where the founding of the church allowed for the founding of the town over 200 years ago, people assume the church will always be there, serving lobster rolls on the 4th of July and bringing them the nativity, complete with live sheep, on Christmas Eve.
All this is to say that our chance as a church family to really talk about the Jesus story with our regularly attending children will be limited mostly to right now. So I started today. We looked at the Nativity set, and we read a charming book, Margaret Wise Brown's "Christmas in the Barn," with its out-of-print Barbara Cooney illustrations, a long ago favorite of #1 Son's. He could probably recite it for you, especially the part where "The little donkey brayed, 'Hee-haw!'"
And after we read the story (please don't call the Advent police!), we sang, a capella, "Away in the Manger," which is quoted in the book.
Our children will watch the Grinch (in both versions) and Frosty and Rudolph over and over and over again. DVDs will burn the images onto their retinas. Santa will come to town, and Zuzu will save her petals, and Scrooge will have his revelation, but the Baby Jesus will be little more than subtext unless we tell the story ourselves.
Believe me, I don't expect anyone else to do it for me. It's the foundational myth of my belief system, and yes, I use the word myth deliberately. It speaks in the simplest terms of love and mystery, of courage and trust, and it's up to me and others like me to transmit it to the next generation.
We're growing quaint as Cooney's barn, and we'll be out-of-print, too, if we don't tell our story.
And if we disappear for lack of telling it to our own children, well, *that* might make the Baby Jesus cry. And we don't want that.