Thursday, December 13, 2007

Travelers: Following the Story

First came the shepherds. They heard the news, through a chorus of angels no less. With such storytelling devices as bright light and trumpets and being able to fly, it’s no wonder the shepherds left their jobs and scurried off to Bethlehem. They followed the news to a stable - not quite a barn, more like a cave - where they found the child.

I wonder if the stray cats and dogs didn’t beat them to the manger first though. The moo’s and spitting and snorting of the barn animals with the screams of a young girl giving birth probably scared the stray animals away at first. But when the donkeys and sheep settled down and the mother began to rest from her hard work, I imagine the baby crying. Softly… loudly… not at all. I bet that baby’s cry silenced the barn animals and I picture the stray cats, always intrigued by a human’s tears, sneaking in around the stones, through the legs of the stalls and up on a ledge to spy on the newborn child.

Some people knew the story was coming, waiting to be told. They followed the story before they even met the characters or knew their names. Simeon and Anna were two such people. The story tells us that Simeon waited day after day; such was his faith that he would see the Messiah before he died. And without any hint except the urging of the Holy Spirit, Simeon went up to Mary, Joseph and Jesus and added to the story. He said the baby would bring salvation. Maybe he said this because the baby’s name means “God saves,” but he added that the child would be a light to all the people. He predicted pain would accompany salvation, but he blessed the new parents nonetheless. And Mary and Joseph were amazed as the story continued to unfold. Anna soon joined them and brought her prayers and blessing upon the child.

The magi too heard the story. They had to gather bits of it piece by piece. First there was the star. It didn’t seem a part of any constellation they knew, so they began to search for its origin. The learned more of the story of the birth and the location when they met the King of the Jews. And finally, they met the main character of this drama that had brought them from so far away. And they worshipped the young boy. They told the story of a child-king and true to their heritage, they offered the king expensive gifts to honor him.

And the story continued as people began to hear about the baby and follow the news to where the boy, the child, the man was.

Everywhere Jesus went, news of his nature preceded him. “Jesus, we have heard you can heal – heal me!” “Jesus we have heard that you raise people from the dead – raise my child” “Jesus, we have heard you are the Son of God – save yourself if this is true!” Everywhere people followed the story of a baby, the story of a man, the story of a God.

That’s what we do today too, is it not? We follow the story. Sometimes we stand far off and just watch God at work. Other times we gather in close, compelled by the awesome tale, and we peer into its mystery. We watch historical events unfold and we marvel at those stories retelling themselves even in our own lives. We follow the Jesus story just like we would follow any other story: the ice storm in the Midwest, the war in Iraq, what Brittany Spears has done now. But unlike these other stories, this story changes everything.

It doesn’t just change which icy roads we avoid or does it change national border lines… it changes us. It changed history. It changed rules. It changed people. It changed the world.

Which is probably why we keep on telling the story today. Why we follow the good news of a God who demonstrated love by becoming like those he loves. This is why we watch God moving in the world and we pray God will move in us. It is why we peer into ourselves, into our hearts, into our minds and open them to the mystery of God. When this happens, we stop following the story and begin experiencing it ourselves. Instead of just watching the story, we join the story. Like the shepherds we move from hearing the news to seeing the baby. Like the magi we move from one location to another - be it geographically or spiritually - in an effort to honor the king. Like Simeon, we who have waited to be healed, to feel whole, when we encounter the story, in the flesh, in front of our face, we are changed.

This is not just a story to accompany Santa Clause and Frosty the Snowman. It’s not just a picture book you read or a crèche you set up on a mantle. It’s not just a myth to put children to sleep or a fable to get children to behave. It’s the story of an event, of God breaking into human history as a human being. It’s a story of poverty and richness, of oppression and freedom, of love and betrayal. It’s a story we experience every day. And it’s the story that will save our souls.

Indeed this is a story that will change us. It will redeem us and help us to keep on going. It is a story that gives hope and peace. It’s a story we have to work hard at allowing to be the story that defines our lives. So many other stories will compete to define who you are, but stories of loss and shame and bitterness are not the stories God has told for you. God’s story may have elements of those in it, but Jesus’ story begins with a baby and ends with an empty tomb. God’s story begins before creation and calls us good. God’s story trumps whatever we have reduced ourselves to and opens us up to who we can become…and how we can change the world by telling our stories.

And in telling the world our stories, indeed, we are telling God’s.

Ann Pittman
December 13, 2007

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