Tuesdays are usually a bit different than other days for me. My wife works from 2-9 pm so I pick the kids up from school and work from home. Or at least I try to. Of course, there are inevitably numerous distractions, minor crises and irritants to put up with, as well as such essential tasks as dinner preparation, help with homework, the circus of bedtime, and any number of other things to deal with. Suffice to say, that Tuesday afternoon/evening is not typically the most productive time of my week.
Well, yesterday was no exception. I had the best of intentions of getting some sermon work done while my children played in idyllic silence and contentment (where might I have picked up the illusion of that possibility, I wonder?). As usual, this was not to be the case. There were the usual requests for snacks, help with the TV, squabbles and disagreements, and the usual commotion and activity. There was not much progress to report on the sermon front.
I looked over at the couch and saw my daughter poking around in an old book that my wife kept to record memories and pictures from our kids’ first years. She has always loved to hear stories and look at pictures from her earlier years. I put my computer down, pushed my books to the side, sat down beside her and just looked on as she turned the pages. Eventually, she started to ask me questions. Then she asked if I could read her what mom had written under a picture (the words are mostly in handwriting which the kids haven’t quite progressed to yet). She wanted to know every detail.
Eventually I just picked up the book and began to read to her. I read stories about what she used to do in her crib, about the little yellow wheeled duck that she and her brother used to tear around our house on, about the time during potty-training when, upon my emergence from the bathroom one day, she offered me a piece of chocolate for my “success,” about her first words, first steps, first time riding a bike, first holidays, etc. We laughed harder than we have laughed in a long time. My daughter leaned her head on my shoulder, slipped her hand in mine, and before I knew it half an hour had passed.
“I liked it when we read from my book,” my daughter said later last night. “How come,” I asked. “Because I like to hear funny stories,” was her reply. But I suspect that there was more to it than that, even if she couldn’t quite articulate it. I think that the half-hour spent reliving the story of my daughter’s life reminded me how important stories are to us, as human beings. My daughter likes to hear funny stories, certainly, but more importantly she likes to hear her story—the story of who she was, what she did, and how she affected others. I think that even if she couldn’t quite express it, her delight was not just the result of hearing about a bunch of funny things she did once upon a time. Her story is who she is.
We cannot do without stories, whether we are eight or eighty-eight. We need to know who we are, what has shaped the person we are at present and what can influence the person we will yet become. We need to know the parts of the story that preceded our arrival and the parts that are yet to come that might fulfill the deepest hopes and aspirations of all our stories. We are storied creatures—we cannot make sense of who we are and what we can hope for apart from stories.
Tomorrow night we will gather as communities for Christmas Eve and we will once again listen to the story of Christmas. We will sing songs and we will read Scripture, and we will be reminded of the bigger story of which we are a part. Throughout the Christmas season, with family and friends, we will retell the story—in living rooms, around kitchen tables, in coffee shops, on chilly walks. We will be reminded that whatever else we might say about what we believe, Christmas is our story—the story of what God has done, what God is doing, and what God will do for us, in us, and through us. We will be reminded that in order to accomplish the redemption of the world he loves, God does not send a set of metaphysical principles or enlightened moral codes, but he sends himself. He enters the story and pulls it along. God tells a story, and he invites us to inhabit it.
I wish all of you a joyous and hope-filled Christmas as we celebrate Jesus our Emmanuel, the God who is with us, the God whose story we inhabit, the God whose story we tell.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.