Against the backdrop of the majestic Christ Church Cathedral, our annual Christmas Carol Service is a wonderful way for our school community to assemble and get into the spirit of the holiday season. The service features music and singing from Junior, Middle and Senior School students, plus some great audience participation as everyone sings familiar Christmas carols.
What sets the Carol Service apart, however, is the thoughtful reflections from students. Rev. Keven Fletcher worked with a small group of kids who wove certain elements of the nativity story into their reflections and tied it in to their own lives.
“It’s an interesting process, building the reflections. I was blown away (this year) when a student noticed how the Innkeeper was the only character in the nativity story to not receive instructions,” says Rev. Fletcher. “We then talked about the idea and how it relates to their lives. Some of their comments stem back to Chapel, while others relate to Middle School discussions and, of course, their own conversations.”
Below are the two reflections written and recited by Middle School students Devon, Marina, Amalia, Mareya, Seung, Scott, Jessica and Lauren:
When we talked about the nativity story this year, we noticed something: everyone receives pretty clear instructions. Mary is told that she’s going to have a baby, and her fiance, Joseph, is told that he has to stay with her. The Wise Men get both a star to lead them to Jesus and a dream to steer them away from King Herod. The shepherds are not only told where to find Jesus, they get a whole chorus of angels to send them on their way.
Everyone has their instructions… except the Innkeeper; he’s the only one who has to figure out everything himself.
In this part of the story, Mary and Joseph arrive in Bethlehem, which is overrun with people reporting for the census. Every room is booked, every bed full, and if that isn’t challenging enough, Mary is about to give birth. The couple needs a safe, warm place for the night. They’ve surely knocked on a lot of doors before they arrive at this inn.
Imagine what things are like for the Innkeeper. All these people have descended on his town; good for business, yes, but also seriously stressful. He’s probably exhausted. Every one of his rooms is full, every bed accounted for. He’s trying to serve all his guests’ needs, from blankets to food, and it’s likely that people are knocking on his door at regular intervals, asking him to take in yet another guest.
This time he opens the door and it’s Mary and Joseph. The Innkeeper sees that she’s pregnant. He knows that his inn is full. How should he respond?
There’s no star to show him the way, no angel to tell him what to do. The Innkeeper must figure it out for himself. We’re assuming that he’s the one who showed them to the stable, which we think of as being warm and safe. This wasn’t a perfect response. We question why the Innkeeper didn’t give up his own bed for Mary. At the same time, at least he responded in a way that made a positive difference to Mary and Joseph, without anyone telling him what to do.
This makes us wonder about our own response when someone knocks on our doors. Like the Innkeeper, we don’t tend to hear from angels or see special stars. Most of the time, we have to figure it out for ourselves.
Watch “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” performed by the Grade 8 Choir at the Carol Service.
We’re impressed with the Innkeeper. He had every reason to be caught up in his own, busy world, thinking about himself, his needs and running his busy inn. There was no reason for him to answer his door once the inn was full.
We all know a little bit about what that’s like. We sometimes get caught up in our own needs and problems. Even though we have relatively easy lives, we tune out from the world, focus on ourselves. For instance, when it comes to this season, we kind of assume there will be presents in part because we’re innocent, little and cute. At least, we think we are.
We’re not all that prepared to inconvenience ourselves and do something that’s uncomfortable, which is why we’re so impressed with the Innkeeper, who does something despite all that. And he does it not because he has to, and not because someone told him to; He does what he can because he can, which is a pretty cool way to live.
We think about how we sometimes shy away from people because they’re upset or in pain. We think about how we sometimes distance ourselves from those who seem different than us. And yet, we should do something. It doesn’t have to be perfect, just like the Innkeeper’s response isn’t perfect. We don’t need to fix the whole problem, but we can deal with part of it.
It makes us think about how people responded in Paris a few weeks ago. There was no way that anyone could fix what happened. There was no perfect response.
But that didn’t mean there couldn’t be a response.
People went back downtown the next morning to offer and receive free hugs from strangers. Others lined up for hours to give blood. Even right after the first blasts, people Tweeted that those needing shelter could join them in their homes; instead of bolting their doors, they opened them to people they didn’t know.
In their own ways, they all played the role of Innkeeper, doing something to make a difference.
What about us? When we think about making a difference, we usually think of causes like We Scare Hunger and Free the Children. These are good ways for us to reach out beyond ourselves. But they don’t put us in the position of being uncomfortable or of being inconvenienced.
That, oddly enough, got us thinking about horseshoes. When we gather in our social groups, we tend to form circles, not horseshoes. And when you think about it, circles are closed; it’s hard to join. Some people are part of the circle, others are outside.
Even when we try to gather in horseshoes rather than circles, someone always fills that gap and turns it into a circle. If you call them on blocking the horseshoe, they may say things like “You can’t tell me what to do” or “I don’t want to.” It’s so easy to blame the closing of the circle on them.
But really, even if someone closes the gap, any of us in the circle can open a new one. And if that horseshoe gets too big, we can step out and form another one, again with a gap, leaving an invitation that is as open as any door in Paris, as the inn that night for Mary and Joseph.
When that happens, we know from experience that people feel welcomed and included, that we begin to see that we’re not limited to a particular social group, that we have a place, that we feel a part of something larger than ourselves, that we are loved.
Like the innkeeper, every time we’re willing to inconvenience ourselves for the sake of another, every time we’re willing to make space for someone who’s different, every time we offer a simple act of kindness and give of ourselves, we provide someone with a little safety and a little warmth in a world that might otherwise be cold and heartless.
And the beauty of all this is we don’t have to act perfectly; we only have to do what we can because we can.
And where does that get us? Perhaps it gets us to a place where we realize that we’re all connected, interrelated; a place of warmth, of happiness, of belonging; a place where we discover ourselves more deeply. Sort of like being in a stable with a manger and a newborn baby.
You can browse and download more than 100 photos from the concert at the SMUS Photo Gallery.
(photos by Darin Steinkey)