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by Cory L. Kemp

It's the most wonderful time of the year, and there is even a Christmas song that reminds us of that simple reflection. Part of the lyrics from this classic, always sung by Andy Williams in my head, rekindles our connection to the tradition of recounting memories as we gather with friends and family. I can hear Andy now, telling us about, "scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago."

Also very vivid in my mind is the face of a family friend, brought to tears from laughing so hard at the sight of my father trying to fit the too-large Christmas tree through our kitchen to its spot in the living room. For some reason that year, we had delayed purchasing a tree. As it was already December 23, our friend had felt compelled to take matters into her own hands. The tree eventually made it into the living room, but, of course, it was too tall, the trunk didn't fit into the stand, and even after we managed to stabilize it somehow, it took up more than its share of space. Decorating it was a fiasco unto itself. As the season progressed, the under-watered tree dropped needles as if it were auditioning for the next Charlie Brown Christmas special. Whenever our friend popped in for coffee during the holidays that year she asked after the tree, watched my father roll his eyes, and then they would both burst out laughing.

But the story doesn't end there. The next year, feeling a desire to honor the memory of the tree, our friend presented us with a new coffee pot. It was a tall percolator, shaped like an abstract tree, and very, very green. She was quite pleased with herself, and laughed almost as hard as the year before. Although not my only Christmas story, it is one of my favorites. It has all the important features: drama, suspense, a compassionate deed, humor, and a tremendously joyful spirit. Unforgettable moments like these don't happen every day, and they deserve to be remembered.

Another Christmas memory comes from years later. Having just taken over managing a retail furniture store, I found myself on December 1 sitting on side-by-side boxes with my friend and supervisor, in a back room filled with merchandise. Both assistant managers had quit, and there was no time to hire and train anybody else until after the holiday season. We were short staffed due to illness, and the mall hours were extending to eight in the morning until eleven at night. Having worked together for a number of years already, we recognized that neither of us could manage the situation alone, and somehow we got through it. We have also managed to maintain our friendship, and will be spending Christmas together again this year, but under much less stressful circumstances. This is also one of my favorite Christmas stories because sometimes the Christmas spirit is one of endurance, perspective, gratitude and grace.

Each of us has stories spoken and stories unspoken that walk with us as we move closer to our celebrations of the birth of God With Us. A recent PBS special, "From Jesus to Christ," which focuses on the development of Christianity after the death of Jesus and the destruction of the temple at Jerusalem, speaks of the forty year oral tradition between these events and the first written documents about the life of Jesus and his followers. During those years in which Judaism and Christianity were still one faith, the oral tradition kept Jesus' memory alive among people who had not known him personally or even met him at a public event. The stories they heard from people who had known Jesus did, however, become their memories. All the parables, healings, sermons and teachings Jesus shared during his ministry were not forgotten, but were passed on as stories, and then offered up as hymns. At the time, early Christians gathered in each other's homes, each bringing to the common table what they could offer, including stories, prayers and hymns remembering Jesus among them. Who Jesus was, and what he preached, then became anchored in the worship of the community and the souls of its people.

Although what we now cherish as the Christmas story was not written down, these early believers, wandering in their own forty year wilderness in search of their understanding of the Kingdom of God in a broken, brutal world, perhaps knew the story of Jesus' birth. Perhaps someone brought that story to the table, as a prayer, or a hymn, remembering Jesus' welcomed presence among his people.

Christmas stories, especially the ones told over and over, taking on a life of their own, are like the ornaments on our Christmas trees themselves. Collected over time, they each add their own flavor, color and texture to our lives, and the lives of people in our communities. We don't have to have been present at all the events that generated the stories. Just hearing them and retelling them is enough. The stories, shared memories, and the prayers and hymns they become in our laughter and reflection become worship of God With Us once again.

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As an ordained minister Cory L. Kemp worked in educational ministries in several congregations, as well as pastoring a congregation. My writing has focused on nonfiction essays and I have recently submitted a theological memoir for publication. My ministerial background and love of writing have combined to develop Creating Women Ministries, a website dedicated to encouraging theological dialogue, particularly among women, through workshops, journaling and personal spiritual development. My website can be found at http://www.creatingwomenministries.com

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