Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Christmas Story that really happened

I think it’s hard for most of us to wrap our minds around The Christmas Story.

I’m not talking about the “Christmas Story” that we watch on TV every year… the one with Ralphie, who wants a Red Ryder BB Gun for Christmas, but keeps being told “you’ll shoot your eye out”. You know the one… he learns cusswords from his Dad, so his Mom washes his mouth out with soap; the gang dares a kid to touch his tongue to a frozen lamppost; the neighbor’s dogs eat the turkey; and Ralphie’s Dad wins a fragile, Major Award. It’s a cute movie.

I think most of us CAN relate to that Christmas Story.

It’s the other Christmas Story we have a hard time really relating to: The original one, with Baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes, laid in a manger.

We all know the story. We cherish the story. And the faith many of us carry with us for our entire life is based on that story.

Still, we have a hard time letting the reality of it sink in. It was so long ago, so far way.

I have developed my own theory about how the human mind treats fantastic, amazing, or incredible events from long ago or far away.

I had to develop my own theory, because I never really studied psychology. Okay. There was the one class in high school when I was a senior, but I mostly slept through it because I had gotten up early every morning to drive a school bus. And there was one course in college, but I dropped it because… well, the professor was too weird. It was the 70’s.

Consequently, I have no real formal schooling in psychology, nor have I read much about the topic on my own… so I’m left to develop my own theories, which, frankly, may have already been theorized by others. Or totally disproven as nonsense. I don’t know. I guess I should have stuck around and listened to my hippie professor.
My theory, however, holds that the human mind has a way of storing topics which humans can’t really grasp or deal with. The mind simply treats it the same as it treats story-book material, I believe. I gave it a name: “sub-fictionalization”.
Dinosaurs and cavemen, for instance. They were very real, of course, but I believe our mind often treats these topics like fiction. We think of them the way we think of a good movie or Disneyworld.

Similarly, we’re incapable of truly grasping other galaxies which are millions of years older than ours. So our brain simply files it in the “story book” folder as a way of coping with it.

Terrible disasters and wars and unspeakable atrocities perhaps fit into the same categories. If we weren’t there, and didn’t see it with our own eyes, or live it in person, the events just get filed away along with the “fiction”. It’s a good story, sorta like a Dickens novel. The Crusades happened. So did the Napoleanic Wars. And the Black Plague and the Holocaust. But since we weren’t there, we’ve only heard the stories.

The entire Bible, despite being the most authoritative historical account ever produced, is processed by the brain as simply a collection of stories. The ark and the flood, the lions den, the belly of the whale, are stored like fairy tales. Angels, along with cavemen and dinosaurs, are “sub-fictionalized”. (Remember, that’s my made-up word to go along with my made-up theory.)

After a while, we have a hard time separating miracles from monsters: miracles that really happened form the monsters that are the invention of a writer.

And, because it was so long ago and far away, the original Christmas Story, I fear, falls right into same category. We hear it. We learn it. We recite it. We make it the central focus of our annual calendar and the rituals of our lives.

But our brain still may have it filed along side Snow White and Pinnochio.

To make The Christmas Story even more difficult for us to grasp as truth, not fiction, we’ve built an entire holiday culture around it which WAS invented by the human mind: flying reindeer, elves that make toys, Frosty the Snowman, and, of course, Santa, up on the roof top.

All of which makes the wonder of that original Christmas Story fade back into our storybook file, along with The Night Before Christmas, Ebenezer Scrooge, and Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.

Except, there’s a really important difference: that Original Christmas Story really did happen. Sure, it was long ago, and far away… but it’s still just as real as if it had happened last week in Myrtle Beach.

A Baby named Jesus really was born of a virgin. He really was the Only Son of the Creator of our entire world. He really was born in a manger.

Angels really did appear to shepherds watching their flocks of sheep. A star really appeared, guiding visitors from distant lands to visit the Christ Child.

He really turned water into wine. He really fed a multitude of people with two fish and five loaves.

He really healed the sick, the lame, and the blind, simply by willing it. He really brought the dead back to life.

He really walked on water.

And then, He really did let Himself be nailed to a cross to die, and didn’t try to save Himself as he had others. He really died. And He really rose from the dead.

And He really did it all for us.

It’s a wondrous, incredible, miraculous story. So wondrous, so incredible, so miraculous, that many of us simply file it away in the storybook file, along with the other things we just can’t understand.

But at least once a year, we ought to stop and try to think about that very real story.

The Original Christmas Story.

The one that really happened.

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