As you read this familiar story this month, ask God to open your heart and mind to hear it in a new way.
Luke 2:1-20 (New Revised Standard Version)
1In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3All went to their own towns to be registered. 4Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
8In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
14“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
15When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.19But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
ELCA Book of Faith Initiative Devotional Questions:
What scares, confuses, or challenges me in this text?
What delights me in this text?
What stories or memories does this text stir up in me? You might remember a story about church at Christmas time or a time when you received unexpected news, for example.
What is God up to in this text?
Have you ever heard the hymn “I Love to Tell the Story”? I know it’s not a Christmas hymn, but every time I revisit this story of Jesus’ birth, it is the one that I am humming in the background. When I was a young pastor, I was very adamant about not telling this story or singing Christmas hymns in church during the season of Advent, or the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. I had been taught that Advent is a season of anticipation, of faithful waiting, of deferring this story until just the right moment on Christmas Eve. And I still love the anticipation, the gathering of all the faithful around this story on the most holy of nights. However, I have also come to believe that Advent is a season of preparation, and, as such, maybe it’s time to approach Advent a little differently.
You see, when I was a kid, you couldn’t help but hear the Christmas story just by existing in culture. It was on TV. Church Christmas hymns were in the shopping mall and on the radio. This is just no longer so. When we hear about Christmas today, it is about snowmen and shopping days and reindeer and red cups. No mention of Jesus or this old, old story that we all used to know so well. In my mind, we could get cranky about this, or we could do something about it.
Remember how I said that Advent is a season of preparation? Maybe the way that we prepare is to learn again that which we have forgotten (or perhaps never knew). We dwell in this Christmas story, as well as the story of the angel coming to Mary (Luke 1:26-38) and the story of the angel coming to Joseph (Matthew 1:18-25). We return to it, time and time again, day after day throughout the season of Advent. We dust off the Christmas CDs and playlists that feature the hymns of the faith, the songs we sing to welcome Christ as newborn King. We prepare our hearts and souls and minds for the coming of Jesus.
And when Christmas Eve finally comes, we are ready. We are ready to receive the Word that contains some of the best news of all, and we respond with joy and singing. We are ready to focus, and be filled with wonder. We are ready to step onto holy ground, where heaven and earth touch in the person of Jesus. And Christmas comes among us.
I pray that Christ comes to you in a new way in this season of anticipation and preparation. May God open your heart and mind to receive him. Thanks be to God! Amen.
Pastor Breen Marie Sipes
p.s. I also invite you into the Advent Spiral Experience: https://goodgodideas.wordpress.com/category/advent/
Or the Nativity Set Project: