Years ago a reporter for a weekly newspaper in Connecticut interviewed a colleague of mine for an article he was writing about how local churches celebrate Christmas. He asked her, “How do you make the same story new and fresh every year?” She answered, “I don’t. The story speaks for itself.” At the time my colleague had been in the ministry over twenty years, and with all the wisdom I possessed from my two years of ministry, I determined that she was being kind of lazy. Sure, it’s the same story, but I’ve always believed in good scholarship, in doing my homework. I spend time each year reading the inspirational writings of others, praying and meditating on the story. The story is like a diamond with many facets, so every year I turn the story this way and that, to catch a new glimpse. I have always thought of my Christmas Eve message as my gift, to God and to you, and I want to give you something new.
Then I remembered that the beauty of this story isn’t because of what preachers do to it. The beauty of this story is its power in spite of what preachers do to it! Besides, our world is in such turmoil right now. We are living in anxious times, surrounded by division and bigotry, and 2019 has been a hard year for many people. Maybe what we need isn’t some new way of seeing the story, but recognizing the beauty in the fact that the story hasn’t changed. This is the same story as when you were an angel in the Christmas pageant. This is the same story you heard as a child sitting next to your mother, while squirming in your scratchy Sunday clothes; and the same story you heard sitting next to your mother when you didn’t know it would be her last. This is the same story you heard you first Christmas together, and the same story as when your beloved was still beside you.
This is the same story you heard that awful Christmas—you know the one I mean—after the death that left you reeling, or when you were going through your divorce; the year your kids were driving you crazy and you threatened to return all their gifts, the year you didn’t have money for many gifts, the year you hadn’t yet told anybody who you really are, and you were terrified of how they would respond. Yes, that Christmas! This is the same story you heard then, remaining the constant in good times and bad, reminding you of what has been, what is, and what is to come.
This is the same story, and it offers you the same invitation: to enter the story and see yourself in it. To see yourself in young Mary, saying “yes” to some crazy plan to save the world. To see yourself in Joseph, full of doubts, but faithful anyway. To see yourself in the shepherds, bored, just doing their jobs, when the sky breaks open. To see yourself in the angels sent to the world to announce good news. You are invited to enter the story and see yourself in it, but what truly sets this story apart from others is that we don’t only see ourselves. We also see God. God in flesh and blood and mess. God at work in the fields. God in the song of the angels and the cry of a child. God saying peace. God saying Immanuel—God with us—I am with you, in every Christmas, in every season, with every breath.
Come back next year—I’ll probably have some new angle I want to share—but it will be the same story, in spite of me, a story that unites us with those who came before and those who will come after, like a golden thread woven throughout history, that somehow whispers “Good news! Good news.”