What’s your story?
One dictionary says a story is an arrangement of words that tells the particulars of an act or occurrence or course of events.
But if I ask you, “What’s your story?”, my guess is you’re going to tell me something about what makes you who you are. It may involve an arrangement of words, but the way you tell that story will probably be closer to literary theorist Kenneth Burke’s understanding that literature – or stories, in my thinking – are our ‘equipment for living’.
I’m thinking of this now because one of my favorite things to do is look for books that tell the Christmas story to give to grandchildren at Christmas. It should come as no surprise to anyone that Christmas books form the majority of retold Bible story books in children’s publishing. The story of God entering the world in the form of a tiny baby is one that brings delight to children who understand babies, and adults who can engage with mystery. God became one of us. There is nothing we can encounter – not anxieties about our daughter who works in a hospital during a pandemic, not confusion about how a decision to move to a small place 3 years ago no longer seemed to be the right decision, not rage about a child’s death, not hatred and violence, not persistent racism, not fear of those who are different – that God in Christ does not know and redeem. That’s a pretty powerful story.
I believe that the central story of our lives is God’s gracious activity in our world and the fulfillment of that activity in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. That story tells us who we are and shows us what we can be through God’s grace. And like the best stories, it needs to be told and retold in both words and actions.
One Sunday when our then youngest daughter was in kindergarten, she was sick and I stayed home with her. We decided to have our own worship service, so we got out the hymnbooks, found the Bibles and Julia brought over a chair and a box and fashioned herself a pulpit. We sang Joy to the World and Jesus Loves Me and a few other hymns and songs that I’m sure were not based on the lectionary passages for that Sunday. We prayed together.
At a point during this very nice time of worshipping at home, Julia said she was going to give a sermon. Julia had only been going to worship regularly for about 6 months, so I was curious to see what this sermon would be. She put the Bible on a chair , stood In front of it and proceeded to tell the story of Jesus’s birth and life – including miracles, calling disciples , teachings….and ending with his death and resurrection. I remember sort of sitting up straighter in the middle of all of this and thinking…they must have just had a review or something in church school! She finished and I said, “Julia, I loved hearing about Jesus. Thank you for sharing that with me. But how did you know all of that?” Although embarrassing to admit, I was thinking of it more in its chronological terms…how did she get all those fact straight, keep it organized? With a real look of puzzlement on her face she said, “Mama, you’ve been telling me that story my whole life.”
This amazing story of God’s love for us in Christ that begins in a stable in Bethlehem and never ends gives us an identity and a calling and a community and it is a story worth remembering and sharing and living. Go, tell it on the mountain!