Christmas Stories: A Gospel Guys Story
(Based loosely on an inspiration by Rev. Bill Salyers)
December 20, 2009
“Hey Matthew. Didn’t you leave out some of the details?”
“Not really. I got the important stuff. You know it’s all about Joseph. He was such a good man. You see it right at the beginning when he was trying to find a way to break off the engagement without too much drama, without things being too rough on Mary. But an angel came to him, spoke right to Joseph, and told him it was okay to marry the girl. She hadn’t really been unfaithful. It was all God’s doing. Joseph is such a class guy. And a man of such great faith. He is what the Christmas story is made of.
“He was even willing to make that journey to Bethlehem. I’m not sure why he even wanted to go to such a forsaken place when he knew the baby might end up being born there. Which, of course, he was. And he had everything going fine until Jesus was two or so and those travelers from the East showed up. But I guess it really wasn’t their fault.
“It was a long trip. Once they saw that star they started packing up everything. They had to get their servants together. They each probably took some of their wives and other family members. It must have been quite a caravan that rolled into Jerusalem?
“They didn’t mean to just about ruin it all. They came so close to getting Jesus killed when they let Herod in on things. But Joseph to the rescue again. The angel came to him again and Joseph took Mary and the toddler to Egypt. You see why the story is all about Joseph?”
“Joseph is great. But aren’t you forgetting some details?”
“Like what, Luke?”
“Like Mary. In the story I know, the angel comes to her. She is the one with the great faith. She is willing to do what God called her to do, no matter what, no matter if Joseph did leave her. But the angel came to her, spoke right to Mary, and told her everything was going to be alright. Things would be good between her and Joseph, and the important thing was that she was going to give birth to Jesus and they were going to raise him.
“They went to Bethlehem because they had to. The governor wanted to make a census to help keep order, and every man had to take his family to his home town. Just like the Roman empire. It was Mary who knew what Rome really was. And it was Mary who believed that God was about to bring the mighty down from their thrones, and lift up the lowly. Her baby was going to have something to do with it and she had a front row seat. She told her cousin Elizabeth all about it.
“And maybe your travelers from the East showed up when Jesus was two years old, but what about the angels, the shepherds, the manger?
“Shepherds? Mangers? What are you talking about?”
“Manger, not mangers. The place where Jesus was born.”
“I don’t know anything about a manger. I figured Jesus was born in that house where the travelers from the East finally found him.”
“No. He was born in a manger, all right. Some innkeeper let them stay in his barn.”
“Well, he must have been a good man to think about all the people in the inn like that. Can you imagine the disruption that would have happened in that inn if Mary had given birth there? Screaming all night and then they would have had to clear the whole place out because it would have been ritually unclean. And who knows how long it would have taken to get some priests out there, so they would start using it again. Everybody in the inn was okay and Mary still had a place to give birth. It worked out for everybody.”
“Worked out for everybody? You don’t get it do you? Here is Jesus born in as backwater a place as you can be born, and born in a barn, no less. And who are his first visitors, not those rich guys from the East who finally showed up, but shepherds watching their flocks in the nearby hillsides who went running to see him.”
“Yes, shepherds. Dirty, vulgar, shepherds that I had always been told God could care less for. The folk on the lowest rung of the ladder, living in a town that’s nothing to speak of, get the invitation from the angels and go looking for a baby in a barn. And then they out sang the angels.”
“Hi, guys. What are you talking about.”
“Hey, Mark. I was just trying to fill in some of the details about Jesus being born that Matthew doesn’t seem to know.”
“Why bother? For me, the whole story starts when Jesus gets baptized and starts his ministry. Obviously he was born, but it’s what he did that matters a whole lot more to me. I like getting right to the point.”
“ Oh. Hey John. We were just talking about when Jesus was born. Matthew and I have different takes on the story, and Mark doesn’t even bother. What about you?”
“You are all being pretty short sighted.”
“I go way back when I think about Jesus. ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God.’”
“Yeah, we know. We’ve heard you talk all about it. You may like going all philosophical on us, but we need something a bit more down to earth.”
“Well maybe that’s why I talk about the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us. How much more down to earth can you get than that? That’s all the Christmas story I need.”
“If we are all going to be writing this stuff down, don’t you think we need to come up with something that offers a bit more consistency between the narratives, as someone might one day say.”
“Me? I’m not changing anything.”
“So it’s really okay to have these different takes on the Christmas story?”
“Look, we just have to tell the story we know. And that’s the way it’s going to be for everybody who follows Jesus from here on out, anyway.
“I like the stories Matthew and Luke tell. Matthew has always been such a guy’s guy. So it makes sense the stuff about Joseph is what he keys in on. And Matthew is never going to be as radical as Luke, nor be as willing to hear and tell the women’s stories about Jesus as Luke is. It’s a cultural thing. Luke, are you sure you aren’t taking credit for something a woman wrote? Just kidding, kind of.
“All Mark and I are trying to say is that it’s what we do with the stories that matter most, though I doubt Matthew or Luke would argue with that. Maybe none of these stories are true, but maybe they all are. It’s what they do to us that matters. And I’ll bet there’s a whole lot more truth in all of them than not.
“Maybe that’s why Jesus told stories all the time. It’s the stories that are going to keep this movement going. The stories about Jesus and what becomes of his church. The kinds of stories they tell about his followers are what will prepare the way of the Lord and smooth out the rough places in people’s lives.
“It’s not just what we write down that matters. You can tell the most accurate or the best story ever but, as we so often used to hear, you’ve got to have ears to hear. We can’t really control what people do with the stories. Whatever becomes of Christmas is all up to them. But we know what we’ve seen and what we’ve heard. And if the ones to come keep doing the same, make the story their own, tell what they’ve seen and heard, we’ve done our job.”
“So what have you got about Easter? Here’s what I remember….”