Ruth Woodliff-Stanley

Holy Days

Christmas Day

Cheche Lavi

December 24, 2020

Revised Common Lectionary

Hi Everyone,

Welcome to Paintbox. If you're new to the site, you can learn more by visiting the about page. Each week you'll find links to interdisciplinary lessons followed by my collecting question for the week and then my personal reflection.

On the eve of the feast of the Nativity in this challenging year, I am moved in a new way by Mary’s gift of her life and heart to the world, even when she did not know the truth of her story.



Arts & Architecture

Mary Did You Know?

Greene Lee Rufus and Lowry Mark Alan


Pentatonix' rendition of the contemporary Christmas carol by Rufus and Alan.

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Arts & Architecture

On the Day We Are Together Again

Humbird, arranged for chorus by Will Robertson and performed by the CBH chorus.

Congregation Bet Haverim

Congregation Bet Haverim's performance of Humbird's piece, "On the Day We Are Together Again."

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As you live with not knowing, what do you believe?


But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.—Luke 2:20

Last night, my beloved friend and I watched the Dolly Parton Christmas special, each from our own homes, texting each other as we watched. Despite our very different backgrounds, we share a love for Dolly. Many moments spoke to each of us, but one carol stood out—“Mary Did You Know?” I’ve included here Pentatonix’ rendition, which remains my favorite version (listen to first arts an architecture lesson).

The fact is, she didn’t. Mary didn’t know. Even if you ascribe to the visitation by Gabriel, which I do—particularly after my mother had a vision of heaven which she reported in vivid detail as she was dying—it is difficult to argue that Mary knew. Really knew, I mean.

Which is precisely the power of Christmas. God comes, stripped of any identifiable markers of divinity—unrecognizable as anything other the most frail, helpless kind of person—an infant. While we travel and ache and groan in labor, some of us without home or security, without health or reason to hope, God is born. Right in the middle of all our mess. This is the tenuous beauty of the human experience—all our sorrow and all our joy inextricably bound by the most delicate thread.

Another friend of mine sent me a gift. With it, he included a note in which he said that in Haiti, where his family is from, there is a phrase, “cheche lavi”—to look for life. (Gratitude to Wynn Walent for this phrase).

Perhaps this is the meaning of God arriving in such unassuming form. Intentionally unannounced. Leaving us to discover him in the common places where we had lost sight of majesty, of divinity, of mystery. Inviting us to look for life, even when we don’t know very much at all about the glory actually unfolding right in the midst of the commonplace.

It has been a hard year for such discovery. Pandemic, race hatred, harsh poverty, fire and storm—all these and more have kept us from one another—in many instances, quite literally, they have kept us separated. And when we are not together, when we are cut off from one another, it becomes even harder to look for life.

On the day we are together again, in the words of the exquisite song offered by Congregation Bet Haverim that another of my wonderful friends sent me (listen to the second arts and architecture lesson), I wonder if we will know—just a bit more—about the presence of God right in our midst. I wonder if we will look for life and see it, where before we missed it.

It was, after all, when Mary was together with her community, in the sorrow of the loss of her son, that she began to know who Jesus was and why she had birthed him:

Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Mag′dalene”, with the Apostle John standing near the Virgin Mary—John 19:25, John 19:26

The blind will see, the deaf will hear

The dead will live again

The lame will leap, the dumb will speak

The praises of the Lamb

Mary did you know…

That sleeping child you're

Holding is the great, I Am?

I believe. I believe that even when we, like Mary, do not know, Jesus the Christ is with us—at first frail and utterly relying upon our care and love. I believe, as we love him into his full presence among us, he binds all our sorrow and all our joy together with the most delicate thread of grace—so that life, even with all its hard places and all its uncertainty, makes beautiful sense. I believe that there will come a day—in the time beyond time—when the blind will see, the deaf will hear, and the dead will live again. And in the here and now, I believe that on the day we are together again, we will see—just a bit more clearly, the great I AM who has been with us all along.

Meanwhile, there is beauty in our longing, beauty in our not knowing.

As I hold my not knowing, I believe. And so, I look for life. Even now. Especially now.

Cheche Lavi. Merry Christmas.