Look to the East

By Mickey Dunaway | Reprinted with Permission by Currents Magazine | Cornelius, NC

Writing my “Moments In Time” column for the December Currents Magazine was challenging. I had a bit of writer’s block about how to write a column about Christmas. When the content of your monthly column is focused on the title, “Moment in Time,” and you are writing one for the December issue, and you are a born and raised Southerner, focusing the column on Christmas is a given. However, since my column reaches three small but diverse communities, I was solidly blockaded with how to approach Christmas. I could fuss about all the decorations and money spent on gifts quickly put aside, but I try to keep the column on the positive side. 

So, I turned as I often do to my small-town roots.  The source of this month’s small-town story is Alexander City, Alabama.  “Alex City,” when I experienced it in the 1980s and 1990s, was the prototypical milltown—a photocopy of the milltowns of North Carolina.  It was small—15,000 people.  One high school where I was principal.  One Methodist Church where I taught an adult Sunday School class. One Southern Baptist Church— the largest.  One small Catholic Church.  A Piggly Wiggly where you could find the best fried chicken in town.  One theater with two screens.  Miss Debbie’s Dance Academy.  And one Jewish family whose children attended my high school.

In Alex City, families went to church on Sunday, and caring for neighbors was a particular point of pride.  The kind of town to which college graduates returned. 

Our single Jewish family was ingrained into the social and spiritual fabric of Alex City as much as any family could be.  They were regular invitees to Christmas parties.  Hosted the Dunaways for a Passover seder at Easter, and they celebrated the Passover with our entire Methodist Church. 

Alex City at Christmas was a community that demonstrated St. Luke’s description of Christmas as a time of Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men (Luke 2:14). 

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My intent with this column is not to be religious but to explore these three significant aspects of Christmas a little differently than we usually do.  (1) Mary and Joseph, (2) Goodwill toward all and peace on earth, and (3) the men who, according to church tradition, visited the Christ-child—the Maji and the Shepherds.

Mary and Joseph

The couple traveled to their ancestral home of Bethlehem to pay taxes as Roman law demanded.  We can argue if Mary and Joseph were married.  For the sake of this column, let’s just say they were good friends.  I point out one simple fact about the couple—Mary and Joseph were practicing Jews.  We will come back to this fact shortly.

The Maji, Wisemen, Kings

St. Matthew writes in 2:1-2: In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, magi from the east came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?  For we observed his star in the east and have come to pay him homage.

Church tradition in various forms calls these three men: Wisemen, Kings, and Magi.  In fact, one of my favorite Christmas songs is We Three Kings.  It begins with this verse:

We three kings of Orient are

Bearing gifts, we traverse afar 

Field and fountain, moor, and mountain 

Following yonder star

An obvious fact, it seems, is that we miss the homelands of these three visitors.  Britannica.com says, According to Western church tradition, Balthasar is often represented as a king of Arabia or sometimesEthiopia, Melchior as a king of Persia [modern day Iran], and Gaspar as a king of India.(https://www.britannica.com/topic/Magi

Christmas was an inclusive event almost from the moment of Jesus’ birth. 

The Shepherds

Being a country boy, I quickly identify with the shepherds who spent the night in the fields with their flocks.  These are commonfolk.  I don’t know if they routinely discussed religion with other shepherds as they moved their flocks around to graze on new grass, but I would guess not.  They were like many of us—they believed in Jewish traditions— but perhaps just getting by took precedence in their daily lives.

It is clear that without the emphasis on commonfolk, the Christmas story is incomplete.  As Abe Lincoln once said, “God must love the common man, He made so many of them.” 

At a time when there are more billionaires in the history of the world and making money is a goal unto itself, ordinary people still overwhelmingly populate the earth.  I am proud of my upbringing and count myself among that lot.

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Final Thoughts

In this time in the history of mankind where groups are warring with words and accusations or missiles and tanks, if we are to celebrate a Christmas holiday where all people of all origins and beliefs can join peacefully, we need do only three things:

  • Emphasize the prophet Isaiah’s vision … His names will be Wonderful Advisor and Mighty God, Eternal Father, and Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).
  • Heed the all-encompassing description of the event in the Gospel of Luke, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men (Luke 2:14).
  • Recognize some things we may have missed in Christmases past—that three distinct groups representing a multiplicity of religious traditions came together around the birth of Jesus. 

Here’s wishing you a Christmas season where we gaze beyond the bright lights and hoped-for gifts and look to the east again for the bright star that drew the shepherds and Wisemen to Bethlehem.  Whatever our religious practice, or if we have none, let us pause amidst the hectic days ahead and offer an entreaty to the heavens for peace and goodwill for all mankind.

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As Christmas this year approaches, try something different. Do what I did for the first time in life. Write a few paragraphs about why, beyond the obvious, that Christmas is special to you. I think you will find, as I did, that writing down your thoughts while leaving out Santa, reindeer, presents, parties, lights, and food will define your values in ways you have not experienced before. – MD

3 Comments »

  1. To reply to your prompt: Memories of Christmas, Past Recalling memories of Christmasses Past, one event comes to mind.  Christmas, 1965.  My dad had been in Hawaii and Guam for six months, working for the Air Force.  Unbeknownst to us kids, he had come home about midnight on Christmas Eve.  When we all woke up Christmas morning, and realized he was home, we all squealled with delight and joy.  He was Santa Clause personafide, to us.  He brought all the girls (ages 2 to 13) hula outfits complete with bikini top, leis and real grass skirts.  He was our gift that year.

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  2. Memories of Christmas, Past

    Reviewing memories of Christmasses past, I could recall holidays of childhood, young adult or, as my current timeline finds me, elderly, retired Christmas. One event comes to mind. Christmas, 1965. My dad had been in Hawaii and Guam for six months, working for the Air Force. Unbeknownst to us kids, he had actually come home during the night of Christmas Eve. When we woke up Christmas morning and realized he was home, we all squealed with happiness and joy. He brought all the girls (ages 2 to 13) hula outfits, complete with bikini top, leis and real grass skirts! He was our gift that year.

    Like

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