Writing it wasn't exactly as neat and tidy a process as I had hoped/planned. Firstly, every single email I got back on my request made me weep. Seriously. Every.Single.One. And not just because just about everything baby-related tugs on my sad little heart lately. But also, and mostly, because they were all so deeply, astonishingly beautiful to me. I could have never guessed what a flood of beauty and spiritual reality I was opening gates for. I think God wanted that flood for me. But there was nearly a week where I was just sort of swimming in these words, riding them up and down, praying in gratitude, aching for aches and joying for joys.
I couldn't include everything I received, and believe me, I tried. So I'll do another follow-up post to this one with the quotes I would have included had I but world enough and time. But I thought I'd share the script. I've sought permission for everything I've used here, and I even got permission to use the Kershisnik painting on our programs and display it at the front of the church.(He didn't technically give me permission to use it here, but hopefully he won't mind .... I mention it in the script.)
And Pondered Them in Her Heart: Wreath Making Program
Congregational Hymn: “O Little Town of Bethlehem”
Reader 1: Across the world at this time of year, people are unpacking their nativity sets. They pull out boxes from closets and garages and basements, brush off dust from a long year in storage, and unwrap last year’s January newspapers from three little figures: Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus Christ. Other figures follow—angels and camels and shepherds and wisemen and sheep. But tonight we’ll focus on these three figures, this Holy Family, this trio of players in one of the central events in human history.
Reader 2: Luke 2 tells us of this family’s experience: “And so it was, that while they were [in Bethlehem], the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.”
Musical Number: “I Saw Three Ships”
Reader 3: When the angel announced to the shepherds the birth of the Savior, “they came with haste,” and we get our glimpse of the holy family through the eyes of the shepherds: “[they] found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.”
Reader 4: The shepherds went off to tell of the Christ child’s arrival, and we are told that while everyone wondered at the story, “Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.”
Reader 1: It’s easy to understand Mary’s impulse to keep her sacred feelings to herself, but what might she have told us? What more might we know of the angelic annunciation, the long days of her pregnancy, the journey to Bethlehem, the search for lodging, her laboring, the delivery, and the quiet moments after when it was just her and the baby and Joseph in the stable, perhaps a few animals, a brightly shining star, and likely some manifestation of a heavenly presence?
Reader 2: Prophet Gordon B Hinckley said, “Christmas is more than trees and twinkling lights, more than toys and gifts and baubles of a hundred varieties. It is love. It is the love of the Son of God for all mankind. It reaches out beyond our power to comprehend. It is magnificent and beautiful. It is peace. It is the peace which comforts, which sustains, which blesses all who accept it.”
Reader 3: We may not have all the details, but we do know that on that night, in the humblest of circumstances, to a family who already loved Him and anticipated his arrival with joy and hope, the Savior Jesus Christ came. It was a silent, holy night.
Musical Number: “Silent Night”
Reader 4: While we don’t have the direct story of Mary’s birth of Jesus, our world is full of stories of births, and what we learn in our own collective experience informs our understanding of the Christmas story: it seems that when a baby arrives—in whatever circumstance—that God meets the family in that arrival. Creating our own families, or even preparing or longing to create our families, changes the Christmas story, deepens it, makes the birth real.
Reader 1: Perhaps we can feel a little of what Mary felt on that sacred night as we listen to these personal accounts, which we’ve collected in hopes that they will help us feel the spirit of Christmas, the spirit of physical service and sacrifice, of new and fierce and earthshaking love.
Reader 2: “It’s difficult to describe the moment of that first breath of life for my babies. They have been the most sacred moments that I have experienced. Nate's entrance was the most vivid. I thought he would come out a girl so when he [arrived] with a little scowl on his face, the emotions were so powerful. I was entranced with him and I wouldn't let him sleep in the bassinet, only next to me in the bed no matter what the nurses said.”
Reader 3: “When Paul was born, only Chuck and I were in the house. The midwife was on the way—[we hadn’t realized how short the labor would be]. So in that moment it was still and quiet. […]This new babe looked at us and we looked at him and the whole experience seemed to transcend any worldly care. We were just family. Two links in an eternal chain that had somehow managed to add another link all by ourselves. We created him. It was amazing.”
Reader 4: “Josh was born one month before Christmas. It was our first Christmas in our first home. We bought a tree and some ornaments and a star for the top which we used [until] last year—44 years from when we bought it—when it no longer would light. Even so I didn't discard it, thinking that I might be able to fix it sometime. […] I think Mary and Joseph came to know that their Son would go out and be sacrificed to save the world. Sometimes I think that parents feel that they are sacrificing their children just so that they can go out into the world and be good and productive human beings. It is never an easy thing to do […].”
Reader 1: “After my daughter was born, I wrote [in my journal]: ‘Joy. Joy. Joy.’”
Special Musical Number: “Christ Child, Christ Child”
Reader 2: “When Ari came, I had the strongest feeling that I knew her [... ] It was like I recognized her. I think I needed that witness for what [the two of us would go through together]. “
Reader 3: “I remember lying in the hospital bed thinking that I now knew how Mary felt when Jesus was born. Relieved , a little frightened of what the future held, and so honored to be the child's mother.”
Reader 4: “After years of visits with doctors and tests, and what I thought was a successful IVF attempt, I had a miscarriage. […] As my body worked to heal from this loss I would wake up in the middle of the night, [feeling] sad and alone. It was in one of these moments that I thought about Mary, and I started to feel better. I am sure Mary felt alone and isolated, even distant from the people that loved her the most. At times she must have been overwhelmed by Heavenly Father’s plan for her. She surely wondered why she had been chosen. My situation could not be more different from hers, and I don’t pretend that I could ever be as good and faithful as she. Yet, in my saddest moment, thinking of her strength and bravery helped me to be strong and brave and helped me to continue following God’s plan for me, even when I didn’t understand it.”
Reader 1: “There is this holy moment when you first hold your child, when the sweat is still on your brow and your hands tremble with adrenaline, and your entire body aches and feels drained of life, and you hold your child and brush your finger over his soft cheek. It is holiness. It's God's gift of meeting.”
Reader 2: “For me, the true difficulty and trauma of childbirth came as a surprise. I've thought about Mary delivering a baby almost alone, in a dank, probably dirty place and I realize that it was such a humble circumstance for the Savior to have been born into. Humble for his parents—maybe scary and traumatic for them, humble for Him as a tiny newborn to have his first little bed be a place where animals eat. So lowly. And yet it was the greatest birth ever to have taken place, presided over by angels.”
Musical Number: “Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella”
Reader 3: In Brian Kershisnik’s painting, which is on display at the front of the chapel, an eager and steady stream of angels flows above the intimate moment just after Christ is born. Mary is recovering, nursing her baby. Joseph seems overwhelmed, holding his hand to his face. A pair of midwives wash out stained rags, their eyes on the baby.
Reader 4: The original painting measures 17 by 7 feet, fills an entire wall, and Brian Kershisnik says that he painted it after his son was born. He says, "In my experience with the birth of my children … those felt like very heavily attended and witnessed events on a spiritual level. The room felt very occupied and full," he said. Those experiences make him wonder at how many spirits must have been present at Christ's birth, at "how many unnumbered people were all depending on this going through."
Musical Number: “What Child is This?”
Reader 1: “What Child is This?” is the question we all ask of our Savior. Do we believe that he was who he said he was, that he came to rescue us from sin and sorrow and death? We ask it of our children—as we get to know them, as we bear and love and long for and lose them. We ask it of ourselves, as we seek to understand our place in the world.
Reader 2: And if we find the answer: that we are children of God, that Christ did indeed come in great love and power to sacrifice his life for us, then we begin to understand Christmas. We understand the meaning of the humble stable, and in part it means this: that God loved us enough to send his son—not to a grand royal court, or a wealthy estate, but right here with us, simply, the way we all came, to enter our hearts, to heal us. Christmas, the spirit of the season, is about God reaching down to us, as we, in turn, reach up to Him, and reach out to each other.
Reader 3: The current prophet of the LDS Church, Thomas S. Monson said, “There would be no Christmas if there had not been Easter. The babe Jesus of Bethlehem would be but another baby without the redeeming Christ of Gethsemane and Calvary, and the triumphant fact of the Resurrection. [The Christmas Spirit] is the spirit each true Christian seeks. This is the spirit I pray each may find. This is the Christ spirit. No quest is so universal, no undertaking so richly rewarding, no effort so ennobling, no purpose so divine. The Christmas season seems to prompt anew that yearning, that seeking to emulate the Savior of the world.”
Reader 4: May we seek to bless one another and remember our Savior this Christmas season. May we keep in our hearts the humility and power of the simple birth in the stable and babe in the manger. May we, like the shepherds, spread the love evidenced by His birth.
Congregational Hymn: “O Come All Ye Faithful”