O come let us tell stories

This year again, God willing, our friend John will come over to help us put up our Christmas tree—well, really just to put on the ornaments. My husband insists we put up the tree in advance, which deprives our guest of our witty holiday repartee, like “Why didn’t you tell me the tree was crooked before I tightened all the screws in the stand?!”

The best part is when John comes upon the simple little paper ornament our daughter made for him years ago that says simply, in magic marker, “Sox.” Now, you have to understand that as fervent Cubs fans, our family does not cheer for the Chicago White Sox. (This would be putting it mildly.) We do not have White Sox paraphernalia in our house. Period. Our friend, likewise, is a Sox fan who I don’t believe has ever been to a Cubs game in his life. Yet my daughter decided, in his honor, that he deserved to have a Sox ornament to hang every year.

After he goes home, we usually find that John has surreptitiously managed to hang the Sox ornament far higher than any Cub ornament on the tree. That we allow a Sox ornament at all is a true sign of Christmas, of peace on earth, of the lion lying down with the lamb. A Christmas miracle.

Once again we roll up to one of the two best times of the year to be a Catholic parent. Some of us might not exactly be brimming with year-round confidence about our role as our child’s “first and foremost educator” in the faith, as Pope John Paul II called us.

But at Advent and Christmas our worries can subside. The carols we sing, the decorations we drag out, and our family stories of Christmas become our tools to explain God’s boundless love to our kids. Plus, Christmas brashly recalls us to the fact that our faith at its heart revolves around stories—stories about people changed by Love born into our midst. Every parent can do a story, right?

The stories of a girl and an angel, of angels singing to shepherds in the fields, of three kings following a star: What more do we need? “Perhaps the Catholic religious sensibility all begins with the Christmas crib,” wrote sociologist and author Father Andrew Greeley in a classic piece years ago in The New York Times. He described a mother introducing her small daughter to the crib scene: “Who is the baby? the little girl asks. That’s Jesus. Who’s Jesus? The mother hesitates, not sure of exactly how you explain the communication of idioms to a 3-year-old. Jesus is God. That doesn’t bother the little girl at all. Everyone was a baby once. Why not God? Who’s the lady holding Jesus? That’s Mary. Oh! Who’s Mary? The mother throws theological caution to the winds. She’s God’s mommy. Again the kid has no problem. Everyone has a mommy, why not God?”

Stories start with kids but don’t end there, said Greeley. “Later in life the little girl may come to understand that God loves us so much that [God] takes on human form to be able to walk with us even into the valley of death and that God also loves us the way a mother loves a newborn babe.”

Our culture has even played along by using the themes of these biblical stories in the tales that surround us during Advent. With the Grinch and Ebenezer Scrooge we learn that no one is beyond redemption. A loser and his spindly tree in A Charlie Brown Christmas reveal the true meaning of Christmas. George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life shows that the giving of self is what the coming of Christ is all about. All of these stories lead right back to the Christ child, Light born into a dark world. Let’s have some fun with it all. Merry Christmas!

—by Catherine O’Connell-Cahill, from the pages of At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the 2012 Best in Class award from the Associated Church Press, as well as a First Place General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association for the past three years running. Here’s a sample issue.

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