In the Gospels we get four versions of the Good News of Jesus Christ through the lens of people who were writers. They took the oral stories about Jesus which had been floating around for a generation or two by that time, and they shaped them into cohesive accounts. Like journalists of today, they had to pick and choose from among all the tales that they had heard, deciding what they would keep and what they would let go. The Gospels say as much, if not more, about the evangelists and the communities that they served as they say about Jesus.
I wonder what it would have been like to have been an itinerant preacher back then, traveling from community to community telling the tales I had heard and learning new ones. The wealth of oral stories would have told me a lot about Jesus. But, again, it would have told me a lot more about each community – what was important to them in their relationships with God.
I also wonder what was so common between the communities back then that the evangelists didn’t even think to mention it. Just as everybody these days knows about electricity and cell phones, what did the people of the early church know and take for granted that we might not “get”? Archaeologists can only take us so far in knowing.
Christmas wasn’t even a thing back then. Each evangelist tells the story of Jesus coming into the world in their own unique way, but these first parts of each Gospel would have been a kind of back story to the real events: Jesus being baptized, calling the disciples, healing and teaching, and, most importantly, being crucified and rising. The first Christian communities didn’t celebrate Christ’s birth.
When our family gets together on Christmas day to open presents and share, I often tell a story of the birth of Jesus. The kids and grandkids tell me that they love this. They aren’t church goers, don’t even really call themselves Christians, but they love the story as told by me, their Baba, who obviously thinks it’s pretty amazing.
So what will I tell them this year? Will I emphasize how it was in the small, occupied country in the Middle East where God decided to enter into the incarnation? Will I share the tale of the poor teenager, Mary, and her visit by Gabriel (or Gabrielle) a high mucky-muck of an angel? Will I mention Joseph and how seriously he took his dreams?
Undoubtedly I’ll talk about the homeless guys, smelly and maybe three sheets to the wind, out with the sheep beyond the edge of town, and how it was they who saw the heavens parted by the aforementioned high mucky-muck of an angel, along with a plethora of others.
What will my message be? Fear not? Look for the miracle of God being present, right here, in the world? Say “yes” to God’s call? Pay attention to how it’s those who have nothing to whom Christ comes?
How would you tell the story to your kids and grandkids this year? What would you emphasize? What seems less important?
More importantly, how do you tell the story through the way you live your life? How do your choices and your service to others speak about Christ? How does the Christian story unfold in your life each and every day?