I have heard the Christmas story more times than I can count. I have not told the story quite as many times, but I can almost quote the Luke 2 version in King James verbatim, and within the next month I will tell the story quite a few more times. But this year the story sounds different. You see, this is will be my first Christmas away from home.
One of the things I’ve learned about stories is that, as hard as we try, we still tell and interpret them based off of our own setting. I know that the Israelites wandered in the desert and I know it must have been awful for them, but having never been to a desert myself without air-conditioning, I can’t very easily understand what it must have felt like. The Christmas story is the same way. We are used to hearing it from a cushy pew or curled up at home in Christmas pajamas, maybe sipping hot cocoa or picking up scattered bits of wrapping paper. I have always heard the story in the context of home—with people and places I know, traditions, predictability, and familiarity.
But nothing was familiar about the first Christmas, and nothing was homely. All of the characters would have been traveling, scared, and not anywhere close to home. Mary and Joseph were barely married, and they had been ordered to travel to a village they had never been to before. Mary was pregnant, uncomfortable, and in pain, yet she had to walk or ride on a donkey for long stretches at a time. Joseph would have had no idea where he was going—they didn’t pick out a hospital beforehand where Jesus would be born. And when they finally got to Bethlehem, Mary didn’t know she would birth her savior in a stable with animals and dung-ridden hay. She didn’t have a midwife or any of her relatives to attend her first birth. Nothing would have been as she expected.
And what about the shepherds? And the Magi? The Magi weren’t at Jesus’ birth but they arrived at the small family’s house after what could have been months of traveling through the desert on sweaty, smelly camels. And the shepherds were outside at night. Maybe it was cold. Maybe they were hungry. Whatever the case, they weren’t huddled with their family in front of a fireplace sipping cider.
The truth is, no one was home for the first Christmas. Maybe it was 23 hours on a plane headed to a country with a language and culture I’m not familiar to make me realize that truth. But now I understand that no one was comfortable; no one knew what was going on; and no one was around the familiar. The Christmas story, then, is not necessarily for people who are home. It is for people who wander—for people who are lost. And that is who I am going to share this beautiful story with. Please lift me up to the Father. That, more than anything else helps my team and me to have these kinds of opportunities.
Update: We all arrived safely with no missing baggage or delayed flights. They were long flights, but we were well taken care of. We’ll sleep tonight and wake up in the morning and head to the village. This will be a lot of language and culture learning for us so that we are sensitive to the people and how best to share our stories with them. We will be visiting churches and connections that we know, but we will have many opportunities to story. I’ll be telling the Christmas story to kids with candy canes, and we’ll have plenty of opportunities to share the One Story of our Book and our own personal stories of our relationship to Father.