One of the stories I use when I am facilitating Professional Development is that of the Rose bush and the King.
There was a beautiful princess; renowned throughout the Kingdom for her beauty, her kindness and her love of the people of the Kingdom. Her father, the King, loved her dearly. In the prime of life, the princess was struck down with a serious illness and despite the best work of the Kingdom’s physicians died. The King and the people of the Kingdom were in great mourning. To honour her memory the King had a rose bush struck. It was a glorious bloom. The rose bush was planted in a special garden right in front of the palace. A special palace guard was rostered to stand guard over the garden with the beautiful rose bush in it.
Time went by and the old King died. His son, the Prince, the brother of the Princess became King. He too loved his sister and the beauty of the rose bush reminded him of her kindness, her love of the people and her beautiful smile. The new King took great pride in watching the changing of the guard over the garden and was very aware of how, among the guards, to be invited to stand guard over the rose bush was considered the highest privilege. He, and the older subjects of the Kingdom used to love sharing stories of the princess’s kindness, service, smile and laughter.
Time went by and the King grew old and died and his daughter became Queen. She had heard many stories about her great aunt and enjoyed both the rose and the changing of the guard. In time the Queen grew old and died, her son became King. The new King had heard some vague stories about the now, long ago princess. But the rose bush bloomed beautifully and the guards took great honour in guarding the garden. In time the King grew old and his son became King. In the midst of the busyness of the affairs of state he, and all at the palace, forgot about the rose bush and certainly forgot about why it was there. After reigning for some time there was a Review of Palace Structures and especially of the costs associated with running such a large and beautiful palace.
In the 100 page glossy covered report commissioned to and delivered by a large HR firm Recommendation 67 B was that the old rose bush was to be dug up, the garden filled in, a new frost resistant grass planted in turfs and the guard – moved to the front of the palace gates so that the numerous tourists could take photos of them and enjoy the changing of the guard.
The King’s financial advisors noted with satisfaction the lower costs, the increased sales in the adjacent gift shop and the easy to maintain lawn beneath the official palace balcony that many years before a young King had proudly displayed his newly born daughter from.
A silly story. But an important one. We must never cease from telling our core stories over and over again. We must go to the heart of the matter and the heart stories associated with our families need to be told and retold, honoured and treasured – for they form our hearts and gift them with both meaning, purpose and nobility.
Because the family failed to tell and retell the heart story of love, devotion, admiration and service that had inspired that striking of a rosebush and the rituals placed around it – the core of the story, its purpose and meaning were lost.
This Christmas stop. This Christmas gather loved ones around you. This Christmas share story – the story of your parents, your grandparents, your ancestors, your children and your grandchildren – the gifts and joys, pain and sorrow that has been 2023. This Christmas go way beyond gifts and presents to presence. If you must give presents do so only so they will lead to presence.
In the midst of rush and noise. In the midst of desperately searching for a shopping centre car park. In the midst of Credit Card strain. In the midst of all the distraction that can so easily become our lives – pause, stop and tell THE story that is the reason for it all. Shepherds deeply listened. Kings trusted their intuition. A young unwed mother trusted the love dwelling within her and around her. A young carpenter in the midst of confusion found faith.
In all of this we were given the greatest gift humanity has every received – EMMANUEL – God with us. Not God above us. Not God beyond us. Not God over us. Not God too busy for us. Not God judging us. Not God a stranger to us. Not a God of power or ego or privilege.
No, God – Emmanuel – God with us, inside us, around us, tickling us, smiling at us, loving through us. This God, this Emmanuel gifts us with joy, with peace, with love and most of all with hope – in the midst of so much pain.
Now that is a reason to celebrate. That is a reason to gather. That is a reason to stop. That is a reason to breath deeply. That is THE reason for Christmas and as we tell that story over and over and over again – it becomes THE story of our hearts, THE story more than anything else – that will gift our lives with meaning and with hope.
May that story, of love born in the midst of pain, of love born in the midst of poverty, of love born in simplicity and fidelity become the story of our lives – then, Emmanuel, God with us, will be born deep within us and all we see a sparkle in our eyes that the cynical and ego driven will be in awe of.
This Christmas and always may each of you know in the most profound way the joy, the peace, the love and the hope of the Christ child of Bethlehem: of Emmanuel – God with us.