john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Luke 2 - Your Christmas Story

    Bridestowe and Lydford Christmas Eve Communion,
    Bratton Clovelly Christmas Day Communion, 2010

    Isaiah 9.2-7,Titus 2.11-14, Luke 2.1-14

    Which story will you tell this Christmas?

    And which story will come alive for you in the retelling?

    Christmas is a time for hearing old, familiar stories over again. It's one of the things which makes Christmas special to us.

    When families get together the stories come out - fond stories of previous Christmas gatherings like the one when Mum couldn't fit the turkey into the oven or when Dad took the children sledging and ended up with a twisted ankle; bittersweet stories of people who we used to share Christmas with and who are only with us in spirit now: Granddad who insisted we stood for the national anthem when it came on TV at 3.00, the uncle who did magic tricks, the very deaf and thus very loud auntie who left our eardrums ringing by the time she left at the end of the day.

    When Christmas shrinks and we are left with fewer people around us still the stories like these stories remain. New stories are told too. The grandchildren and great-grandchildren come with fresh experiences in life and as the adults quiz them they share them, adding to the wealth of stories in the family's repertoire. Some stories are hard - stories of broken marriages, lost jobs, ill health. But in the sharing of them something special happens: we are comforted, affirmed, supported, helped by those who listen.

    Which stories will you tell this Christmas?

    And which stories will come alive for you in the retelling?

    There's something very good about hearing the old, old stories again.

    And none better than the old, old stories surrounding the most remarkable event in history - the birth of Jesus, God come to earth in the shape and size of a child.

    I don't know if you find this - I do - but each year something fresh and particular springs out of the Christmas story for me.

    I think this year I am particularly conscious of the story of Joseph, a man challenged, rattled to the core by the events unfolding around him and seemingly completely outside his control.

    Joseph, a man in love with a young woman but shaken by the story she told him - such an unlikely story but somehow bearing the ring of truth - so shaken that he considered leaving her, so devoted that he tried to think of a way in which he could do that which would minimise the shame for her and for him.

    Joseph, astonished by a dream in which God's angel told him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife, in which the angel affirmed that the child to be born was from God. Joseph, who after a great struggle - a struggle portrayed so well by the actor Andrew Buchan in the BBC's drama Nativity which you may have been watching this past week [1] - after that struggle Joseph did as the angel told him to: even though angry and bemused he took Mary as his wife, stood by her faithfully until she gave birth, named their son Jesus.

    The gospel writers go on to tell us that Joseph and Mary had to make journeys, one journey of obedience to Bethlehem for official reasons, which climaxed in the birth of their child, and one journey of escape to Egypt when they heard that their baby's life was in danger.

    So much that happened to Joseph he had no say in, he had to go along with; but through it all we catch glimpses of a man who believed in God and loved his betrothed so much that his decisions to go along with what was happening were based on faith and love.

    I think I am aware of Joseph's situation this year because the past year for me has seemed a little like Joseph's. So much hs changed and the hand of God has conspired with circumstances seemingly outside my control to turn my life around and inside-out.

    From a single man of 46 years, and a vicar with one single parish, I have become in the space of 15 months a married man and stepfather to five grown-up children, and a team vicar with five parishes.... what stories I can, and over time probably will, tell you about that transitionwith its joys and challenges...

    Sometimes giddy with astonishment at the situation I find myself in, I think that maybe I feel a little like Joseph felt. I'm encouraged to spend more time this Christmas looking at and thinking about his story, and wondering what it might show me about my own.

    What story might emerge for you this year, from the wealth of stories which the gospels tell us about the birth of Jesus?

    Will you be moved by Mary, her bravery, her devotion, her deep insight into the nature of her son, her hymn of faith which we call The Magnificat about how God lifts up the lowly and brings down the exalted - and see something of your story in hers?

    Will you find in the story of the shepherds some encouragement that God is keen to intervene in the ordinary lives of working people and to share his great glory with every humble person?

    Will the magi interest you this year, inviting reflections on the sort of people who our God wants to share in his story - outsiders, people with different perspectives than ours, those who follow hunches, who search the stars, to find their deity: will their story encourage you to consider who God might be talking to, and talking through, in our world today. Fascinating that the BBC's writers decided to put the Magi at the heart of their portrayal of the Nativity story, their conversations interpreting the events for the viewers: the Magi doing the theology for us.

    Or if you are of a political bent, the background story of the Roman occupation, of Herod the unstable king, and the upheaval of the Bethlehem census may help you make connections with what is happening in our world today, so that in conversation with others about these contemporary events, the story of God will be relevant and current and informative to you too.

    Taking these stories to our hearts and minds and making them our own is a good scriptural tradition. The gospel writers remembered the words of Isaiah the prophet about a great light coming to those who have walked in darkness, the birth of a son who would bring everlasting peace, and their story of Jesus' birth is enriched by making this and many other scriptural connections; Paul writes to the man he calls his îloyal child in the faith we share', Titus, with words which express the full significance of the story of the God become man and his effect on history - our history in which his glory has appeared and will appear again.

    The stories even connect with us in our unbelief. The actor Peter Capaldi, best known as a cynical political spin-doctor in the series The Thick of It, plays one of the Magi in the BBC's The Nativity. He is an avowed non-bheliever but interviewed about this role he admitted to

    getting "quite teary" at the end of the stable scene. He puts this down to the story's place in his childhood, and perhaps in a wider collective unconscious (the report says, and continues to quote him as saying): "It's a story that belongs to everyone - irrespective of how you're brought up - that's taught to you in ways that you can't even remember. It's inside you." [2]

    Which story will you tell this Christmas?
    And which story will come alive for you in the retelling?

    Great, great potential in the gospel stories for each of us. God can speak to us through them.

    Let us spend some time this week with our bible or our minds, hearts, and memories open to hear what story God wants to share to us.

    [1] BBC website: The Nativity pages.
    [2] Olly Grant, From Albert Square to Bethlehem, Church Times, 17/12/10.