Living lightly with Mystery

The thing about a good story is, if you let it, it will tell itself. It doesn’t need embellishment or interpretation. All the storyteller needs to do is stand out of the way and let the story speak. That’s true of the Christmas story. It’s also true of the story of our lives.

Wednesday Sheryl and I attended the Jim Brickman concert at the Riviera Theatre. Brickman returns to Buffalo almost every year. We’ve attended three or four of his concerts, and at every one of them he has played one of his signature songs, “Simple Things.” Here are some of the lyrics:

The first leaves of the tree,
The way you look at me,
A thousand chiming church bells ring
The simple things are free
The sun, the moon, the stars,
The beating of two hearts
How I love the simple things,
The simple things just are.

“The simple things just are.” Like the simplicity of the Christmas story. It just is, on its own, without embellishment or interpretation. A preacher’s young daughter looked up at her father on the way to church one Christmas Eve and asked, “Dad, are you going to try to explain Christmas again this year, or will you just let people enjoy it?” Early in my life as a pastor I learned to get out of the way as the Christmas story tells itself and simply let people enjoy it.

You know, you can tell the whole gospel of Jesus Christ without ever mentioning the Christmas story. It’s not there at all in Mark, the earliest of our gospels, or in John, the latest. Only Matthew and Luke add it, each for their own reasons, and the versions they add are very different from one another. A preacher can be tempted to try to explain the reasons for that, but who’s really interested? We just want to sing the carols and hear the story simply told.

But I will say this: Matthew and Luke added their birth stories more than eighty years after the fact and more than fifty years after his death and resurrection. They looked back from where they stood and told stories about the meaning of Jesus’ life. After all those years during which the legacy of his life was intertwined with their own lives, they added these stories of meaning to round out the story of his life and teaching. And I think in doing that, they were able to find meaning in their own lives as well.

It’s been said there was no point at all in Jesus being born in Bethlehem two millennia ago if he is not born in us today. There’s no point in celebrating Christmas if we don’t celebrate God’s new incarnation in us and in our world today. It’s all the same event, and it all happens today.

St. Paul wrote of one “who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared Son of God with power . . . by resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1:3-4). In the beginning, Jesus had a human genealogy, like any one of us. Only later was he “declared Son of God with power.” It’s what happened during his life that eventually led people to recognize his identity, the true meaning of his life.

And what about you and me? What’s happening in our lives that will one day lead to the recognition and celebration of the meaning of our lives? What ordinary events, unrecognized today, will eventually reveal our true identities as children of God? What hardships and triumphs, what defeats and victories, will tell the story of how God was incarnate in our lives?

During the coming Christmas season, and on the threshold of a new year, don’t settle for looking back at the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, who would later be recognized as the Messiah, the one who would bring healing to his people and to all of creation. Look back also at your own lives, perhaps using this Life Story Map as a tool. Search the highs and lows and all the ordinary, forgettable days for signs of God’s presence and grace in your life – grace that will eventually reveal who you are, grace that will eventually point to the meaning of your life and the role you are playing in the long, divine drama of creation.

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