I watched my father online last Sunday. It had been years since I had seen him in a pulpit. It had been at least four or five years since I heard him read the Christmas story. I last heard it as he sat at my kitchen table with my daughter and they carefully enacted out their manager scene with the nativity scene I had hauled back from Malawi the previous year.
As a kid, we couldn’t open presents until we read Luke’s account of the birth of Christ. We squirmed and giggled and couldn’t wait to get to the end of the story we knew all too well, but as my father read in his strong, powerful voice the magic of the manger scene captivated us.
The last time we read it together as a family I was 15. My dad and I were the first two awake. He made coffee and stoked the fire and readied his Bible. I sat with him in the semi-darkness of the dawn and I had no idea that this would be our last Christmas.
The ignorance was bliss.
The reality makes me teary.
I hadn’t thought about that morning in years. It remained buried with all the beautiful shards of my childhood that were too painful to unpack. Twenty-seven years later the memory emerged like a shiny yet sharp gift. Simultaneously bringing joy and pain.
At 42, in the middle of a pandemic wrapping presents from Santa for my two children I watched my dad read my favorite version of the birth of Christ while sitting on the floor of my living room. The account was not Luke’s, but the narrator from the Best Christmas Pageant Ever. As a child, we were captivated by the Herdman’s and their version of the nativity scene. For anyone, not in the know the Herdman’s, “were absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world. They lied and stole and smoked cigars (even the girls) and talked dirty and hit little kids.”
The Herdman’s were such a breath of fresh air in my Southern Baptist upbringing. They were human and flawed misfits who didn’t know the rules of religion. They brought humanity to the manger scene with their black eyes and their inappropriate gifts of ham. They resonated with us Harris kids who were a little bit more Herdman than the Church allowed. The Herdman’s widened the road and gave us hope that the path to God was not so narrow, so confining so exclusive. But rather it was wide, inclusive full of detours. The magic of Christmas is found in how we love not how we judge.
Recently I’ve been flooded with memories of Christmas’s past. I’ve been sad and heavy. Some of the sadness is from unpacking the past, some of the heaviness is from an unease on how to navigate the present. This Christmas looks different. It will go down in our history as a pandemic Christmas. From what I’ve gleaned from the news we humans continue to judge and mock and deride each other for how we choose to celebrate. At the moment we are missing the magic we are wrapped in judgment and blame and shame.
We need a Herdman shakeup. We need to remember we are all human and flawed and scared and however we come to Christmas this year is unimportant. What matters is that we come. We show up bearing gifts of love, acceptance, forgiveness, and if it feels right a Herdman ham.
I didn’t know my last Christmas with my family would be my last. I didn’t remember it for 27 years.
This Christmas let’s do our best to show up, be present and remember there is magic in a pandemic. There is more love than shame. The world is wide, the path is winding and sometimes in the detour is where we find our best view of God.