Mary’s Story: A 21st Century Setting of Mary, Joseph, and the Holy Child


This version of the Christmas story was written and illustrated by my friend Rachel Terrell. Rachel was a high school student and member of my previous congregation. She’s now a young adult. A couple years ago, following a worship service where I talked about reclaiming Christmas as Unitarian Universalists and re-imagining the Christmas story and how we might tell it today, Rachel did just that. I remembered how powerfully her story and her drawings were. This year, looking for such a version of the story to share with people at my current church, I asked her if I could use her story and drawings. She graciously sent them all along. She is looking to get a wider audience for this work and perhaps publish it in some way. I offered to post it here as Sunflower Chalice does get some decent traffic when I am actively posting things. She agreed. If you would like to use the drawings or connect with the author, she can be reached at rcterrell13 @ gmail dot com.

Each Christmas I pass in a Unitarian Universalist setting, I find that part of my job is to help people reclaim and re-imagine the Christmas story.  This usually involves talking about the difference between facts and truth.  So many religious liberals have made an idol out of provable facts that sometimes there’s little room for truth.  Facts are measurable. They are quantifiable.  You write peer reviewed papers about them to ensure entire groups and professions of people who deal with the same area of factual information agreed upon what the facts actually are.  Truth is different.  Things that are true resonate within you; they strike something in your mind or heart or spirit that responds with a resonating “YES!”  Truth strikes a chord with our lived experience.  Truth involves are feeling as much as our thinking and frequently requires no more from us than, well, “Amen” which basically means, “I agree, it is so.”

Historical, textual, source and form criticism have left us pretty much without facts (or least facts under suspicion) when it come to the Christmas story.  Some things we know now are just not facts.  There’s no record of Quirinius being governor in Syria at the time Herod was a puppet king.  There’s no record of a census being taken of all the world during this time period and even if there was, people were counted in their taxation district, not forced to return to their hometown.  There would have been no inn.  Homeless travelers would have sought refuge in the caves outside of the town.  The manger and its easy pastoral scene was an invention of Saint Francis. As for the rest of it, well, I’m even more skeptical.  A star shining over the birthplace of a particular baby. Kings, following the advice of astrologers, traveling hundreds or thousands of miles to recognize the baby as a king? Angels talking to shepherds? Really?  And yet… I will insist that the story is true.

The story is that light returns after darkness, that hope arrives continuously, every time a child is born.  Every time a child is born is another chance for the world to be saved. This child’s unique contribution may be just what we need and the chance for all of us to make our world lighter and more peaceful and more just comes around and offers itself to us again and again and again as each new life and each new generation comes our way. Christmas is about life, and light, and hope and love.  I don’t know how to give you the facts on these things, all I know is that they’re true and the most important and abiding sources we have to drawn upon.

Too often in the onslaught of the corporate, commercial, empire’s pressure to consume and conform, we lose the simple fact that true story of Christmas is that people believed hope and light and a chance at health and wholeness came to earth in the guise of a baby born to homeless parents in abject poverty.  What does this story look like in a 21st century, post-modern world that can claim, “every night a child is born is a holy night?”

Rachel Terrell’s telling of the story of Mary, Joseph and the Baby is one such example.  Mary and Joseph and the Holy Child return again and again, not just at Christmas, but daily, all around us.  Listen to the herald angel and go and seek the baby. It won’t be lying in a manger, but it will be in Mary’s arms, whoever she is, wherever she is.

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