Christmas, long ago.
We all know the story: a young husband and his heavily pregnant wife seek a safe place where she can birth their child. With no room at the inn, they find shelter in a stable and lay their new babe in a manger. There are shepherds and wise men and a star to follow. There are gifts of silver and gold, frankincense and myrrh. There is a promised savior, a symbol of hope and love and all that is holy.
It’s the first noel. The first Christmas. But it’s far from the last.
Over time, that old story, the one with the babe in the straw and the star in the sky, has been turned into a song or several. We sing their tale and celebrate its anniversary with symbols incorporated from other traditions. We try our best to remember that message of peace and love and hope and add in a sprinkling of patience, a dash of wisdom, and the occasional burst of innocent delight.
But at the same time, we’ve commercialized that chronicle. Merchandised it. This second noel – really the two-thousand-and-somethingth noel – finds us juxtaposing stuffed stockings and decorations on sale since Halloween (a different old story, that) with the pressure to buy the perfect gift, make the perfect dinner, be the picture perfect family.
And yet, as humans we are imperfect. Our families are created, cracked, recombined. We have half-these and step-those, inlaws by marriage and relatives-by-choice, and some of them mix well and others repel each other like the matching poles of the strongest magnets.
But the star still shines in all our hearts, even though we may interpret it differently.
Christmas, far in the future.
The third noel is the once-and-future noel. It sees the star – that star – leading us to new worlds. We plant new communities, feed and water them, and hope that they bloom. We sing the old songs of a far-away place and time and realize that we have used our technology to repeat the journey. We are now that husband, that wife, looking for shelter in unwelcoming places, and making the best we can of what we find.
The children born in the age of the third noel, may not be the saviors of the expanded universe, but they still hold promise and potential.
For the star continues to lead us.
And each night a child is born is a holy night.