Is there any better way to hear the Christmas Story than in the voice of a child? Some people might like to hear the words of Luke’s gospel - in the King James Version, of course - intoned by candle light on Christmas Eve, but, let’s be honest, who doesn’t prefer Linus?
Remember that remarkable moment in A Charlie Brown Christmas when Charlie Brown asks “isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” “Sure, Charlie Brown,” replies Linus, “I can tell you what Christmas is all about.” And he steps out onto the stage, asks for “lights” and proceeds to recite Luke 2:8-14, simply, innocently, as only Linus can. The animation of his face and hands, the moment he drops his security blanket when he gets to the angel saying “fear not,” the joy of “for unto you is born this day …” That’s what Christmas is all about.
For me, it’s a tradition to watch that every year. Another tradition, in many churches, is to have a Christmas Pageant, a dramatic re-telling of the story, more often than not with children playing the key roles. It’s sometimes organized, scripted, prepared and rehearsed. Other times it might be intentionally not any of those things and a little chaotic. It might be dramatic, it might be a little comedic, it might be musical, it might be a little messy, but, with children, it will be full of hope, joy and wonder.
It will also be full of the unexpected. Things always are with children. They have questions and they have their own way of seeing things, their own way of doing things. And, like the rest of us, they might be nervous in front of people, they might not remember everything, they might not always follow instructions exactly, they might not always react the way we expect.
But the story’s like that, too. Mary didn't expect what happened, Joseph sure didn't, the innkeeper was overwhelmed, the animals might have been put out, the shepherds were surprised, Herod was nervous and you can bet the magi wondered what kind of king was the son of poor people. And that’s just the people we hear about. What about the families of Mary and Joseph? The people they meet on the way to Bethlehem, the townspeople or the people the shepherds share the news with? What about anyone else who saw the star and wondered what it could mean?
In the midst of all the unexpected, there seems to be one constant: don’t be afraid. The angel offers that each time they appear. But imagine how often Mary and Joseph might have said it to each other, how often the shepherds reminded each other. I imagine the magi sharing that assurance frequently on their journey there, and home again.
God is in every moment of the Christmas story, just as God is in every moment of our lives. Knowing God is with us empowers us to face the unexpected, to engage the challenges of our lives knowing we are not alone. And I think that knowing God’s presence in our lives frees us to wonder, just as children do. Later in his life, Jesus will remind us that we need to come to God with the wonder and openness of a child. Perhaps that’s why I love to come to the Christmas Story as a child. I don’t want to be afraid of the unexpected in the Christmas Story. I want to wonder at how an angel might bring messages from God. I want to wonder at how that message might be for those who, on the surface, seem the least deserving. I want to wonder at how the creator of all things might choose to come to us as a weak, fragile, needy baby. I want to wonder at how that was revealed to those wise enough to see. I want to wonder at what this birth might mean for me, today.