Saturday, December 14, 2019

"Our Very Own Christmas" and the Road to Bethlehem

I’d never heard of today’s picture book before this year. But when I was browsing through my library’s Christmas books a couple weeks ago, I happened upon it. Our Very Own Christmas by Annette Langen and Marije Tolman surprised me with its whimsical mixture of secular and sacred. When I brought it home, I didn’t know how I wanted to use the book, and then I read an article suggested by The Story Warren (an amazing little website, if you’re at all inclined towards the melding of faith and the literacy life), and I immediately knew what I wanted to say. That happens a lot. I am always thankful for modern-day saints whose words act as springboards (often alongside Scripture) to put my thoughts into words.

Our Very Own Christmas is the story of two young children, Kelly and Franklin. The narrative begins,
Yes, indeed. Kelly knows all the things that happened on Christmas. For when it gets dark outside, she likes to be Mary. And her little brother, Franklin, always gets to be Joseph. And when they are Mary and Joseph, they always set out on the long journey to Bethlehem.
In the Gospels, there is a pulsing thread woven through the text. Everything is leading to Jerusalem. “The road to Jerusalem” becomes a symbol of preparation. Preparation for worship, for holy-day, for sacrifice, for the greatest Sacrifice. Likewise, when we hear, “the road to Bethlehem,” our minds know we are taking about expectation. Expectation and preparation. Indeed, they are quite a pair.

Kelly and Franklin don’t follow a particular timetable as they travel to “Bethlehem”, they aren’t in any rush. As they amble along, they recite the milestones of the story out loud, until Franklin whispers, “What’s next, Kelly?” They know the story, but still, there is a need to make sure that they are telling it right.

At the end, Kelly tells young Franklin,
“So there you see, all the things that happened on Christmas.”
“Hmmm . . .” Franklin says happily. “. . . and tomorrow we will go to Bethlehem again.”
I think Franklin is on to something. On this side of Heaven, rehearsing the road to Bethlehem on a regular basis will never be enough. Each Advent, we get but a glimpse of the fulfillment we will one day experience with the victorious King. In the meantime, we fall into a trap that Emily Jensen writes about in her article, “Our Longing for God Himself.” She says,
We're not looking forward to the advent of Christ himself, but to the gifts he brings in the sack over his shoulder. In our eagerness to gain from his gifts, we might forget to stop and inhale the aroma of his love. . . Someday, when God makes all things new, all of our “never enough” longings will be met in him. We will enjoy the good gifts he gives.

And more than any other good gift, God wants to give you the better gift of himself. Just look at his track record—in the garden of Eden, in the manger at Bethlehem, on the cross at Calvary, in the indwelling person of the Holy Spirit. He won’t stop until Christ returns and he can give you himself forever. Whatever you’re longing for today, the weight of God’s glory, character, and goodness can bear it. Whatever “never enough” you’re experiencing today is fulfilled by “the always and forever enough” of God.
Advent is about waiting and longing. But we easily get distracted and lose track of what we are supposed to be yearning for. Kelly and Franklin’s actions can best be described as play (following the five components of early literacy I mentioned at the beginning of the season), however, the acting out of the Christmas story also brings Philippians 2:12-13 to mind:
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
As we rehearse God’s narrative of redemption, Advent helps us work out our salvation. With great humility, we acknowledge that Jesus lowered Himself in order to save us from our sins. With great rejoicing, we praise Him for the gift of becoming a human in order to show us the Way. What better way to “play,” than to picture ourselves on the road to Bethlehem, ready to experience both expectation and joy.


  1. This is proving to be a great guide for library check-outs. Thank you!


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