Telling the Story

We have a tradition in our house that has gone unbroken for sixteen years. Every Christmas Eve after church we head home, have a light meal and some hot chocolate, and gather around the living room. Then someone reads the story of Jesus’ birth. It does not matter that we have just heard it in worship. It does not matter who reads. There is something important and special about hearing the story one more time.

As we journey through the advent season, as we look back over the past year and forward into the next, and as we rejoin The Story heading through the spring, it is good to hear the story of Jesus’ birth again and listen to the miracle of God’s presence in unexpected places. It serves as a reminder to each of us, to look for God’s presence in unexpected places in our lives.

For this newsletter article, I wanted to simply tell the story as if you were gathered in our living room with us on Christmas Eve. This is the story of Jesus’ birth as told by Luke and interpreted in a translation of the Bible called, The VOICE.

Around the time of Elizabeth’s amazing pregnancy and John’s birth, the emperor in Rome, Caesar Augustus, required everyone in the Roman Empire to participate in a massive census. Each person had to go to his or her ancestral city to be counted.

Mary’s fiancé Joseph, from Nazareth in Galilee, had to participate in the census in the same way everyone else did. Because he was a descendant of King David, his ancestral city was Bethlehem, David’s birthplace. Mary, who was now late in her pregnancy that the messenger Gabriel had predicted, accompanied Joseph. While in Bethlehem, she went into labor and gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped the baby in a blanket and laid Him in a feeding trough because the inn had no room for them.

Nearby, in the fields outside of Bethlehem, a group of shepherds were guarding their flocks from predators in the darkness of night. Suddenly a messenger of the Lord stood in front of them, and the darkness was replaced by a glorious light—the shining light of God’s glory. They were terrified!

Messenger: Don’t be afraid! Listen! I bring good news, news of great joy, news that will affect all people everywhere. Today, in the city of David, a Liberator has been born for you! He is the promised Anointed One, the Supreme Authority! You will know you have found Him when you see a baby, wrapped in a blanket, lying in a feeding trough.

At that moment, the first heavenly messenger was joined by thousands of other messengers—a vast heavenly choir. They praised God.

Heavenly Choir: To the highest heights of the universe, glory to God!
And on earth, peace among all people who bring pleasure to God!

As soon as the heavenly messengers disappeared into heaven, the shepherds were buzzing with conversation.

Shepherds: Let’s rush down to Bethlehem right now! Let’s see what’s happening! Let’s experience what the Lord has told us about!

So they ran into town, and eventually they found Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in the feeding trough. After they saw the baby, they spread the story of what they had experienced and what had been said to them about this child. Everyone who heard their story couldn’t stop thinking about its meaning. Mary, too, pondered all of these events, treasuring each memory in her heart.

The shepherds returned to their flocks, praising God for all they had seen and heard, and they glorified God for the way the experience had unfolded just as the heavenly messenger had predicted.

—–

May God’s presence surprise you this Christmas and in the New Year! And, may you praise God for all you see and hear, spreading the story of God’s presence for all to hear.

Pushing Through

You’ve all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You’re after one that’s gold eternally.
(1 Corinthians 9:24-25, The Message)

I was honestly surprised by the nerves I felt. It was a 5k. And a friendly one at that. I had nothing to lose, nothing to gain. We were all there to enjoy one another’s company, to get some exercise and to share in a breakfast. It was, after all, Thanksgiving.

But, there was no denying that I was nervous. As I approached the starting line less than a week ago, it had been months since I’d done any training. I was anything other than the “good athlete” of the scriptures. I hadn’t trained hard. I hadn’t trained at all. I knew I wasn’t going to win. But, I was there to run the race.

The race started and I was running next to my friend and former running partner. We were out front. It was just like the good old days. Then I looked over at her and asked, “What am I doing up here with you. This is crazy!”

The craziness didn’t last long. Less than a quarter of a mile down the road I was getting passed by everyone. Reality was setting in. Yes, this is where I belong in the race. “Settle in,” I told myself. “Find your pace. Find your rhythm.” It was then I remembered why I’d agreed to come out in the first place. It wasn’t to win. It was to be with my friends.

Paul is right. In the races we run in life there is only one winner. Only one person gets a gold medal at the Olympics. But, we all run the race. And, for me, it isn’t how we finish, but how we run during the race.

I’ve run races with my eyes solidly on the prize, doing everything I can to win. I’ve run races where I was there to help someone else achieve their goals. And I’ve run races like Thanksgiving morning, where the only “competition” was myself. Each one has a place in our lives, but I find that most days I’m running against myself. I’m usually able to steer clear of the “big” sins, but I constantly have to be aware of the smaller, inconspicuous, sins that tarnish my life. It’s those sins that no one else may see, an errant thought or selfish desire, which I battle most often. To use Paul’s analogy, it’s the training before the race where I often fall short.

I’ve been thinking a lot about “winning” recently. I’ve been asking myself what it means to win a race like the one on Thanksgiving. I’ve been asking myself what it means to win in completing my doctoral studies. I’ve been asking myself what it means to win as a church.
In every case I am finding that it isn’t about winning, as much as it is about running the race with integrity. It isn’t about being the best athlete, or writer, or pastor. There will always be someone faster, better, smarter, bigger, or stronger. It’s about running the race to win the prize that doesn’t tarnish. It’s about pushing through when things get tough. It’s about what you do when no one else is around.

It is often said that the game isn’t won on the field, or the court, but in the gym and in the weight room, when no one else is around. I, for one, am glad to be preparing for this race with you. And, I am thankful that we are running for a prize that we all have the ability to win.