“I know this story.”
Every year at some point in the first week of Advent, I hear the exasperated proclamation of a student, “But I know this story! I heard it last year. I know what happens.”
I appreciate the honesty that children bring to our study of scripture and to our common worship. Indeed, we know the story. We know that the prophets promised, the angels proclaimed, Mary and Joseph journeyed, shepherds watched, and magi searched.
We know that a baby will be born and creation will rejoice. We know the story, and yet, on Christmas Eve, we will still read from Luke 2 and hear about a Roman census, Bethlehem, and an overbooked inn. We repeat the story because the story itself shapes us as a community of believers.
For the past two weeks, I have spent almost every night rehearsing with students who are participating in the 4:30 p.m. Christmas Eve service. The angels can hardly contain their enthusiasm as they practice shouting “Glory to God in the highest heavens.”
Our readers work through scripture passages so that each word can be heard and understood. Our shepherds talk about the challenges of taking care of sheep. Parents share stories about their experiences in pageants past. Each night, I have the privilege of seeing a sermon as these young people make the story their own.
Our magi preach generosity as they design evermore impressive gifts to bring. Our innkeeper teaches hospitality, making room when there was none. Our choir preaches community as they work together to tell the story in song as well as spoken word. Our congregation preaches when we pause and turn to worship a baby born 2,000 years ago and in a town far away.
By the fourth week of Advent, I hear something new. I hear our fifth-grade students getting ready to tell the two and three year olds the Christmas story smiling with a learned wisdom, “I know this story, I’ve heard it before. Let me tell you what happens next.” I see our first and second graders creating angels and saying to one another, “We don’t really know what the angels looked like… I wonder how big their wings are. I wonder if Mary thought they were beautiful?”
This is the week I have four year olds tell me that in a few years they will be shepherds and help little children find Jesus on Christmas Eve. During our Coffee and Fellowship, you will see parents and great-grandparents hear the story told again, with details only a five-year-old child will remember.
At the 11:00 p.m. service in the dark of the night, I will see your faces awash in candlelight as we read from John 1. In each moment, as the story is told, we are changed.
Yes, it is a story we know, and yet, it is also a story so fundamental to who we are and to whom we belong that we will repeat it again and again. We will repeat it so many times that the story moves from simple words to being part of who we are.