Guest columnist Cheryl Latuner: The Christmas family

  • A nativity scene in Bayreuth, Germany, on December 7, 2018. TNS/Andrea Schnupp

Published: 12/18/2018 8:53:33 AM

Both my husband and I were raised Roman Catholic, but by the time we met each other, we had lapsed in our families’ practices and were reading Eastern philosophy. We are interested in the intersection of the understandings of truth across all religious streams, so when our daughter was born, we had to face the dilemma of how to celebrate Christmas with her.

My family often convened at my devoted parents’ house for the holiday. I wanted my daughter to feel a connection to their celebration and also to create some kind of tradition of our own. In particular, our daughter responded to our placing of the crèche under the Christmas tree, and our attitude of reverence for the simple family — two parents gathered on bended knee before the baby — cloaked in the amber glow of a Christmas tree light strategically placed to shine into the manger and surrounded by the tousled hay and the imagined warm breath of the animals. The notion of families — multiple persons connected to each other by parentage and lineage — was central to my daughter’s play, and now, a graduate in anthropology, she plans to make that central preoccupation a piece of her life’s work.

This season, I think back on how we approached the Christmas story and wonder how differently I would do it now. Back then, we were capturing the moment of that baby’s birth, celebrating the sweetness of that family. We explained to our daughter that Jesus would become a great teacher of love. She wasn’t so interested in that — the developments of some future time. She was interested in that moment, and in truth, that is how we all celebrate Christmas. The life and times of Jesus come into focus in the Catholic Church over the course of the year. But at Christmas, we are capturing a moment in time, a great singular event.

And yet, part of that event — told in gospel readings as the Story of Christmas — is the plight of that young family, fleeing persecution (Herod wanted to kill the young Jesus because He threatened the king’s power), hampered by poverty (the only way to pay their taxes was to sell the little that they owned) and finding no room at the inn — the humiliation of being shuttered out from those who were not their kind. I did not then think that story of an immigrant family fleeing an intolerable situation and finding only intolerance and doors closed on their path was relevant to my young daughter’s experience. How would I today represent that family to my daughter?

Jesus, in the paradigm I was raised in, is one godly aspect of the Trinity. God the father, the creator, is the mind of God, who loves diversity, and as Creator, set the earth teeming with untold variations of plant, animal and human — types and kinds of which stagger our lowly imagination, some of which are yet even to be discovered. The peoples of the earth, in all their colors, tongues and ways, are the jubilant manifestations of the delight of the mind of God. Jesus, the son of God, is the heart of God. His mission is to tell all the created peoples of the earth how to love one another: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” And the Holy Spirit, the wings of God, is tasked with giving all the people of the earth the courage to act, to care for and protect one another.

How is it that so many of the peoples of God’s created earth do not see allegiance to one another as the central message of that Christmas family and their story? Perhaps it is because we have not told it to each other right. We put all our eggs in the basket of Jesus having come to be our savior, rather than having come to show us how to be saviors of one another. Believe in Him, and we will be saved — but only if we heed his message. Every time we shut a door on someone, we shut a door on our own salvation.

I think my young-adult daughter and I will study and retell the Christmas story again this year. And in place of the names, Mary, Joseph and Jesus, we will put the names of all our neighbors, near and far, on whatever side of any border, and pray we may all find the courage to open our doors on their way to home.

Cheryl Latuner is a resident of Florence and teacher of high school English at the Hartsbrook School. 

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