December 2001. St. Mary's 7th Grade Catechism Class. The students grudgingly file in. Though the friendlier ones say hello, none of them are truly happy to see me. They are anxious to get this over with and return to their TVs and cell-phones. Christmas vacation is near. Their minds are on other things.
Silently, I take attendance from the front of the room. They look at me and look around nervously. He's smiling. Not good. He's in one of his moods again. Not good at all. I begin handing out paper.
You all know the Christmas story, right? Not the one about Ralphie and his B.B. gun, but the real Christmas story?
I receive the expected nods and mumbles. I direct their attention to a Nativity scene on the center table.
OK. Take the next half-hour or so and write it down. You can write it however you'd like. Spelling and grammar don't count, just include as many details as you can remember. If you get stuck, use the Nativity scene to help you. You can talk to the other people at your table if you like, but keep the noise down, and everybody has to hand in a finished story. Any questions?
There are none. They set to work. Thirty-odd minutes later, I call time. They hand in their work. Class continues.
The following Christmas narrative is compiled from their efforts. Every single line, save one, comes directly from one of their papers. All I have done is arrange them. Completely useless bonus points will be awarded to you if you can spot the one line I could not resist adding. It probably won't be difficult.
And now, enjoy the Christmas story according to St. Mary's 7th Grade Catechism Class, 2001.
1 Once upon a time there was a couple, Joseph and Mary.
2 The virgin Mary was appointed
3 By one of God's angels in a dream.
4 One night an angel came up to Mary
5 And told her she was going to have God's body
6 And she shall call him Jesus.
7 Mary had Jesus in her stomach.
8 Mary came to Joseph pregnant
9 And Joseph thought Mary was with another man.
10 He got mad then Mary explained
11 And Joseph started to understand.
12 Jesus was God's son but Joseph was Mary's wife.
13 Her and Joseph travel to Bethlaham.
14 They had to go back to Bethlaham so Joseph could register.
15 They traveled and traveled
16 Because the hotels would not accept pregnant women.
17 They finally found a place in the barn of an old farmer.
18 There were a lot of creatures there
19 Like sheep and goats and pigs.
21 And Jesus was born.
22 Jesus had no crib or a bed.
23 Mary wrapped him in swadling clothes
24 And laid him in the manger.
25 It was a place where the cows ate hey.
26 While in the manger, the baby did not cry.
27 He was supposely born on December 25th but this is not a fact.
28 A shepard came bringing sheep's wool.
29 An Angle told the tree wize man a King has been born.
30 They are told by shepherd to follow the North Star.
31 The three wise kings came and folled the big star
32 To Bethlaham to the manger where he was born.
33 They brought Jesus gifs.
34 Gold, franksense, mur and other good stuff.
35 They went because they thought Jesus was the Savour.
36 They were happy to see the baby.
37 News spread that there was going to be a new king
38 Which made the present king furious.
39 Jesus was born on the stable on Christmas.
40 Then he died on the cross and took away all our sins.
41 And they lived happily ever after. Amen.
What can I say? It is so right, yet so very wrong. I was amazed that, for all their veneer of cool and sophistication, many of them began "once upon a time" and ended "happily ever after." I knew they were not as grown-up as they thought. Perhaps in their hearts, they knew that too. Strangely, this text speaks to us in its own way, and is worth its own meditations. The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.