This is a season of stories. For me, there’s the story of the Christmas Eve when my dad burned a hole in the living-room carpet while building a bike. He quit smoking after that. The story of the first Christmas morning when all of my older siblings wanted to sleep-in and I realized that Christmas changes, as we get older. There’s the joyful story of the first Christmas my wife and I celebrated together. I recall hauling a squat scotch pine into the living room of our third floor, walk-up apartment. We decorated that tree with ornaments from our childhoods; they hung there together representing Christmas past, present and future, each one telling a little story of its own.
The Jesus story begins with an unwed teenage girl named Mary, who finds herself pregnant, not by her fiancé, Joseph, but by the Spirit of God. Mary has an elderly cousin named Elizabeth who is also pregnant by some movement of God. Elizabeth’s husband, Zechariah, has been unable to speak since learning of this unlikely conception during a conversation he has with an Angel of the Lord while burning incense during a prayer meeting.
When Elizabeth’s baby boy is born, Zechariah gets his voice back as he announces that his child is to be named John. (Fast forward, John grows up, finds God and spends a lot of time in the woods.)
Meanwhile, Mary learns that because of a poorly timed Roman Census, she and Joseph need to travel to his hometown right as she is approaching her due date. They arrive in Bethlehem and find that the little town is packed with census traffic. There’s no place for them to stay, which of course is when Mary goes into labor. Fortunately some kind soul sees their predicament and offers them a room. The downside is that the room is usually home to farm animals. Having no alternatives, they persevere and the baby is born. They wrap the baby in rags and make a bed for him in a feeding trough stuffed with hay.
In the hills outside of town, God’s angels are lighting up the nighttime sky in dance and song. They are sharing a divine birth announcement with the ones who are humble enough to hear it. The shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night are told to go to Bethlehem and see the baby who has come to fulfill the promises of their God. The baby, they are told, is wrapped in bands of cloth and sleeping in a manger. The shepherds depart at once and eventually find Mary, Joseph and the baby. Upon arrival they can’t shut up about the message the Angels delivered to them, that Mary’s baby is the long awaited Messiah. Mary takes it all in and ponders it in her heart. This is quite a story.
So if you think that your story is too hard to tell or too weird to tell or too mundane to tell, consider it in relation to the Jesus story. Consider how God does unusual and important things through unlikely people. Folks that are a lot like us.
We all have a story. Some stories are simple, some complex and most are somewhere in between. But if we cherish our life stories, if we tell them to people and if we consider them in our hearts, we will find a God who meets us in our most ordinary human acts, like changing diapers, eating bread and drinking wine. The Nativity story says that God begins a new relationship with us through the birth of a baby. Like all babies this child needs of our loving care and attention. In loving this baby we can become better, more joyful people and we may realize we need to love this baby as much as he needs to be loved by us.
Enjoy your journey to the manger. May you be blessed by loving wonder.