Wide-eyed Wonder of Incomplete Stories

December 24, 2018

Cate Thorn

Christmas Eve     Isaiah 52:7-10     John 1:1-14

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We’re almost there, almost to the anticipated day but tonight we pause, we have only a little longer to wait. While we do so I want to share a couple of stories with you and then I want to ask something of you … don’t worry, nothing tricky or dramatic, I want to ask something of you … but not yet. 


Sunday, a week or so ago, we were gathered at the back of St Matthew’s waiting for the service to begin. The organ was playing, accompanied by the slightly muted roar of traffic for the doors of the church were open. I noticed a young girl, maybe 4, tiptoe in. Pink T shirt, long wavy hair neatly pinned back, startling big grey eyes framed by dark lashes. Looking around, wide eyed, she turned slightly and beckoned through the door. “Come in, come on,” she said. I looked out the door. Dad, clad in basketball singlet, baseball cap, lightly tattooed arms was nervously paused there, “Come on,” he beckoned his daughter, “You can’t go in there.” I smiled at him, “You can if you like. You don’t have to stay, come and have a look.” He smiled, tentatively stepped inside. “It’s OK,” I said, “It’s not a usual sort of place, she just wants to look around.” “Look, Daddy,” she said to him, reassuringly taking his hand. A moment later she again looked out the door, arm beckoning, “Come and see,” she said. This time she stepped toward the door. Looking again, I saw Mum in T shirt and shorts, distracted by the text she was sending. “Come on,” she said to her daughter, “You can’t go in there.” I said “It’s ok, she just wants to look, come in, you don’t have to stay.” Mum paused, looking at her phone. Her daughter took the initiative, stepping toward her Mum, hand outstretched she said, “Mum, come and look, it’s a castle like princesses live in, it’s real.” Mum smiled, tossed her phone into her handbag and came in. She crouched down, her daughter leaned against the chair shape of her Mum, arm draped around her shoulder, big eyes searching and looking. Her Mum put her arm around her and said quietly and instructively, “This is a church.” Princesses, castles, churches, I wonder the links that will be made in that little bright wide eyed child self.


A day or so later, while seeking a book for a 2 going on 3 year old, I stepped into the Unity children's bookstore. After perusing the enticing array for a while I decided I needed some guidance. The young woman serving was suggesting books when we were politely interrupted by a woman also buying in the shop. “I don’t mean to interrupt,” she said “I couldn’t help overhear, maybe I can help.” Soon after another older woman also began to help, an anecdotal exchange rippled through the shop, of favourite books and authors, especially Joy Cowley and Margaret Mahy. “Mind you it was such a shame that the ending of the Lion in the Meadow had to be changed to fit the US market,” the older woman commented. “Really,” I responded, “I didn’t know that, how was it changed?” The new version of the book was duly plucked from the shelf. “See in this version the mother’s with her child on the bed. The book she’s reading looks like the Lion in the Meadow, it ends ‘the lion in the meadow became a house lion and lived in the cupboard.’ It’s a very tame, tidied up happy ending. It’s dreadful,” the older woman commented. In the first version the child and mother are looking at a picture book, the child’s pointing to a lion and it ends, ‘The mother never ever made up a story again.’ The woman further quipped “You either believe in the mystery and the magic or you don’t, putting a sappy happy ending to it takes all that away. It makes it an entirely different story and no fun at all.”


A nice tied up happy ending, safe, comforting resolution. Was the change made to protect children or adults from the mysterious uncertain ending? The first version ending it seems to me is also a beginning. We’re left hanging, wondering, pondering. To figure out what we think’s meant, we have to consider the story over again, we have to get involved in the story. It’s not done for us.


Wide eyed wonder and children’s stories this Christmas Eve, with these in mind I now want to ask something of you. I want you to pause for a moment and remember back, if you can. Back before you had to become a grown up adult self, Christmas Eve magic always helps, of course! I want you to remember your ‘young, wide eyed, awestruck, wondering self.’ I want you to remember when days were long and the world was a place alive with your imagining, fantasy, fiction and real life were intermingled. When real was something to be imagined, not yet confined to the real imposed by someone else. Can you remember that young self? It is still in you. 


This season we tell of angels, of young woman pregnant, birthing God, of shepherds and Magi. Tonight the Word that was in the beginning, we're told, is made flesh. Bravely, tentatively, we draw near, curious yet also cautious, disbelieving before what we don’t know. Not for certain. It feels as if we're on the brink of something, as if something's opening up in us. 


Before we try to make sense of it, before we try to make it fit our world, before our credibility censor shuts us down, stop! 


No, it doesn't make sense, not for certain.


We've tried to make a tidy package of the story of this season for years. Weaving different story strands from different gospels together to make a complete story. But it’s full of holes. It leaves more loose ends than tidy ones. Because the story isn't complete. 


It’s risky to get involved in such a story, tangled up in the puzzle of an incomplete story that's still unfolding. It might ask something of us, it might need us. By getting involved we become part of creating the telling, the sense of the story. We become part of the story. For a story’s as dependent on its teller as a new-born is on its nurturer. How a story unfolds, is made real, depends on how it’s telling is embodied. 


This story: that life has come into being. This life, that is, the light of all people, shines in the darkness, and the darkness will never overcome it. 


Who is to tell this story into the darkness in our world? 


Are we wide-eyed wondering enough to notice light being shown to us, insistent enough to tell others this is so, courageous enough to live so to make it real. Are we to tell of the presence of light, despite the darkness, a light that darkness cannot overcome?

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