The story never changes. Bethlehem and the events of that certain night are forever. I cannot imagine how our world might be if the first Christmas and the life that followed never happened. That life, his words, his dying changed, and continues to change, history in every reach of the globe. His journey may have been measured by time, but his spirit is eternal.
What I heard as a child and what I believed for the many years of my growing are still with me. The words and the telling of the story have not changed. The feelings that stir with every thought and sound and image of Christmas return each year, like special friends bearing gifts of faith and hope and love. If those feelings have changed, they have only deepened with their aging. And mine.
What I heard as a child I accepted without question, with wonder and a sense of God’s love that remains the core of me, for which I am forever grateful. As priest, I preached the story as I believed it, without question. I even had well-taught answers for others’ questions. The story was, after all, gospel. Back then I thought questions were the measure of one’s lack of faith.
My long-ago therapist called these autumn days of life “the wisdom years,” and I believe they are. I will not say that I know much more now than I did early on. If anything, I feel I know less. But the years I have lived and will live, God willing, hold and offer a wisdom I am beginning to recognize and appreciate.
My questions have become the measure of my faith, not of the lack of it. Faith without questions is meaningless, is NOT faith. Faith is not knowing but believing. It is said to be a gift. If so, I have only recently discovered that faith comes wrapped in multi-sized question marks. Recent years questions have become the sinews of my believing. Thomas Merton wrote, “We believe, not because we want to know, but because we want to be.” In my thinking I humbly add, “….and become!” Questions are the “becoming” of me and, I believe, of any person of faith, Jew, Muslim and others. Questions never diminish the truth; they only reveal it, even if only after still more questions.
At my age, the story of Christmas overflows with questions. But the truths the story offers embody a wisdom our world needs badly. The Jesus I continue to discover has become far more challenging as the son of man than as the Son of God. Whatever mythologies religion needs to pass on about his birth and being, this teaching remains simple, clear and challenging to people of any and every faith…
Still, my questions keep me restless on the journey toward wholeness while wisdom tells me what I cannot know this side of forever.