I heard a story recently about the last Christmas that a colleague spent with her family. Her brother, having considered himself graduated from the church at his confirmation, had only made it back infrequently for things like weddings, funerals, and the occasional Christmas service. But none-the-less, his mother decided that a very appropriate gift for his 6 and 8 year old children was a hand carved nativity set. When the children opened the set up their reaction was, “Cool….What is this?” Brother’s reaction was, “This is not my territory. You teach them the story sis.” See sis is a biblical scholar so obviously the responsibility to teach fell on her shoulders. So she went about the delicate task of telling the Christmas story.
So with nativity props in hand she described and showed how Mary had been visited by an angel and was told that she was going to have a baby. She got really into the nativity story from Luke and shared a very detailed and perhaps dramatized account about the emperor who wanted to have a census taken and how they had to go to Joseph’s home town to be counted, and how there wasn’t any room for them at the inn, and how the baby was coming that night.
Her niece and nephew sat riveted at the edge of their seats with big wide eyes and said, “Really? What happened next?” So she went on to tell them about the shepherds in the field and the Wise Men who came to bring gifts because this baby was really special. And because he was really special the emperor wanted him killed so that the baby wouldn’t grow up to threaten his kingdom. And how the wise men went home by a different route so that they wouldn’t have to tell the emperor about the special baby.
So from the edge of their seats the children replied, “Really? What happened next?” So she decided to tell them about Jesus and how he had grown up. When he grew up he traveled around healing people who were sick and feeding thousands of people when they were hungry. He cared for those whom other people had forgotten and he challenged people in authority who chose to serve only themselves and not the people that they governed. She shared that eventually this kind of activity got him in trouble. Some of the people that he didn’t agree with wanted him out of the way.
A big “gulp” came from the niece and the nephew. What happened next was not pretty. Jesus was killed on a cross. And she drew a picture of what it looked like too have Jesus on the cross. And she talked about how he was placed in a tomb.
With very somber looks on their face her nephew said, “Hold on a second. Is this just a story like Harry Potter is just a story? Or did this really happen?” My friend replied that all of this had, in fact, happened. And that she had been to the very places where these events took place. And the niece and nephew looked completely defeated. But my friend replied, “Do you want to know what happened next?” Her niece sheepishly responded with a small but sure, “yes.”
When they went to the tomb where he had been placed Jesus was no longer there because he was not dead anymore but (and they all shouted with much joy in unison), “ALIVE!” Yes he is alive!
I bet you can never guess what they asked. So, what happened next?!?!?!?
Advent is a time of year for me in which the gospel appears to be pregnant with possibilities. In the church we follow a lectionary that takes us through a story telling cycle that follows Jesus from the manger to the Jerusalem with a decent helping of resurrection thrown in. And during this time of Advent we watch and we wait. We read stories of final things, we recite Mary’s song with the world about to turn, and we hear about John the Baptist and his declaration that we make the paths straight. The time is at hand, says John, when the lofty and high shall be made low, when the corrupt and crooked practices will be made straight, when the violent and rough ways of the world will be rebuked into the smooth ways of peace. It is at this time of year that I get excited about asking the question again, “What happens next?”
What happens next when we use this season of advent to prepare ourselves to tell the story of Christ with us, one more time? What happens when in the hustle and bustle of all of our other preparations we remember what we are preparing for? What happens when we are brave enough to tell the story for those who haven’t heard it, for those who are hungry to hear what happens next? What happens when we allow Christ to be born in us and visible through our actions?
I love what Martin Luther writes about Mary:
When the holy virgin experienced what great things God was working in her despite her insignificance, lowliness, poverty, and inferiority, the Holy Spirit taught her this deep insight and wisdom, that God is the kind of Lord who does nothing but exalt those of low degree and put down the mighty from their thrones, in short, break what is whole and make whole what is broken.
God is using you, and will use you. Our age, our status, our attitude, our shortcomings are not an out. God will show up in our lives when we least expect it and breathe life into our bones, and breathe life into our communities and our homes. Sometimes it will come as a still small voice that brings a sense of wonder and curiosity. Other times the answer is as subtle as a hit in the head by a two by four.
Today I offer an advent invitation. When your Christmas preparations cause you anxiety, frustrations, anger, or financial ruin make yourself step back from them. Ask yourself if what you are doing is helping you express God’s love through your actions. Sometimes the answer is going to be yes. If that is the case, take a deep breath, relax, and get back to it. Sometimes doing something challenging is worth it. If the answer you have is a definite, “No!” then find a way to change the situation. Find a way to help you to tell the story in your homes and with your neighbors. Because you are the keepers of the story. You tell the story that the world needs to hear even though it would rather drown you out with choruses of Frosty the Snowman playing over the Musak. Don’t be afraid. You just may be surprised at who you find sitting at the edge of their seats asking, “What happens next?”