I had a great time reading to 2nd graders today at one of our local elementary schools. A group of us from work volunteered to read to students after lunch. We chose our books from a pile in the library, pre-selected by the school. I grabbed a book that looked fun and was written by Mem Fox. I love Mem Fox and this was a new one to me. Any kids' book that has 'wombat' in the title is for me.
I wished I had flipped through the book before I made my choice, however.
Dear little wombat was now old enough to have a part in the nativity play. He was either too big, too tall, too small, or too sleepy to be the Archangel Gabriel, Mary, Joseph, a Wise Man, or the innkeeper. He was finally chosen to be the baby Jesus. All's well that ends well.
I felt very uneasy reading this story to a group of school children in their classroom. I know, I am overly sensitive to this. There were several different ways of seeing this story. All the Christian children who know the story of the birth of Jesus could relate. All the children who may not be Christian may have felt like no one ever comes to read books for their religious holidays. And the one little boy in the front who asked, "Who is Joseph?" completely confirmed for me that in school, it's okay for it to be a completely secular holiday celebration.
I know this seems very strange to say, but there are times when I'd like to take Christ OUT of Christmas. The birth of Jesus has nothing to do with sales at the malls, buying someone a Lexus, or a fabulous chunk of jewelry - exhilarating as it may be. It has nothing to do with cookies, bows, cards, drinks parties, and the like. It really has nothing to do with Santa Claus, but you can kind of see how we learn to pray in our Dear God/Santa...please give me everything that I want sort of way..
Until August of this year, I spent 16 months in a paid staff role as a Christian Education coordinator for my local church. I love sharing the wonderful stories of the bible, telling of the amazing people who have shaped our faith, the lessons to be learned from all this great history and how God still speaks to us today. Let's just say I was out of my comfort zone in a public school with children, save two whom I have taught in Sunday School, whom I did not know if they a) celebrated the real story of Christmas, b) celebrated a completely secular Christmas, c) observed other faith traditions, or d) did not celebrate Christmas at all.
Yes, I know that I was the only one in the room who was uncomfortable. I'm grateful for the nudge of the Spirit who let me know that making assumptions is never the best way forward. I'll read again, with my Santa hat on, at school next year. But I'll be certain to pre-screen my selection first...