By Cathy Wille
I remember learning the inn-and-manger part of the Christmas story from my earliest days in Sunday School. For me, the story evokes Christmas music, my favorite part of Christmas, which tells the story in many creative ways.
“Away in a Manger” tells us that the “cattle are lowing, the baby awakes.” “The Little Drummer Boy” tells of a youngster whose gift to Jesus was to playing his drum. “The Friendly Beasts” tells of the donkey, sheep and dove who offered their gifts to the child. In the opera “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” a handicapped shepherd boy joins the three kings and the other shepherds who come to adore the newborn child. “Some Children See Him,” by Alfred Burt and Wihla Hutson, lifts up the way each of us first sees Jesus through our own eyes: “The children of each different place will see the Baby Jesus’ face like theirs, but bright with heavenly grace, and filled with holy Light….” The second verse concludes: “And ah, they love him too.”
All of the pilgrims were welcome, and there was room for them at the manger.
When I reflect on the UCC motto -- “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here” – I’m reminded that we re-enact the manger story every Sunday. Then, as I reflect further, I wonder how the animals, the drummer boy, kings, shepherds and Amahl all could relate to Mary and Joseph. Mary and Joseph were in their ancestral home of Bethlehem. The kings came from the East and the shepherds from the fields. A variety of animals (as far as I know, no one talked “cow” and “dove) apparently could all be present to one another. How was that possible? It probably was not unlike what we are experiencing now as we try to relate to on another in today’s polarized society. Everyone seems to be speaking a different language.
Reflecting further, I realized that there may be a message in this openness of the manager. All who came followed the bright star. They all came to bring their adoration to the newborn child. They ALL had common purpose, which may have allowed them to be present to one another as they experienced the Christ in the child and the Christ in themselves.
Wouldn’t that be wonderful if we could be present to one another in the same way, even to people with whom we have nothing in common or with whom we disagree? In 1993, I came across an organization called Study Circles Resource Center. I kept one of their worksheets, which had been adapted from a paper prepared by Shelley Berman based on discussions of the Dialogue Group of the Boston Chapter of Educators for Social Responsibility. The document was called “A Comparison of Dialogue and Debate.”
The document compares the posture of dialogue and the posture of debate. For example, dialogue is to collaborate: Two or more sides work together toward common understanding. Debate is oppositional: two sides oppose each other and attempt to prove each other wrong; In dialogue one listens to the other side(s) in order to understand, find meaning, and find agreement. In debate, one listens to the other side in order to find flaws and to counter its arguments. Dialogue opens the possibility of reaching a better solution than any of the original solutions. Debate defends one’s own positions as the best solution and excludes other solutions.
Is it possible that if we were present to one another from the Christ in us to the Christ in others with a posture of “dialogue,” we, too, might experience the gift the Christ child brought to us at Christmas -- the gift Mary and Joseph received and shared with the diverse pilgrims who came to worship their child?