The story of Christmas is really many stories of Christ’s birth. Matthew’s gospel contains the conception of Christ by the Holy Spirit, the angel visit to Joseph, Jesus’ birth, the wise men’s visit with their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, and then Mary and Joseph’s escape to Egypt with the baby Jesus. Luke’s gospel adds another angel visitation, this time to Mary, Mary’s Magnificat, the census trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the manger birth, the shepherds visit, and still more angels.[i] Taken as a whole, these individual narratives make up the larger story of Jesus’ nativity according the bible.
We have, of course, added to this Christmas story over time, as well. Jesus was probably not born on December 25th of year 0. The wise men, shepherds, angels, and animals were probably not all orderly gathered around Joseph and Mary with Jesus in the manger as so many nativity scenes depict. And for that matter, I am relatively certain that they did not sing Silent Night or any other Christmas carols, exchange gifts, decorate a Christmas tree, or were visited by Santa Claus. It may or may not have been the white Christmas of our dreams, but Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Vera-Ellen, and Rosemary Clooney (the stars of the movie White Christmas for all of you under 40 or unfamiliar with this holiday classic) were definitely not there.
We continue to add to this Christmas story. For us, it becomes a living nativity story. It is a living story not only in the sense that Jesus Christ was born and lived (and still does), but in the sense that the story of Christmas, of Christ’s birth, is still alive in us. We tell this story again and again even if we conflate it. We sing about Jesus and Mary and Joseph and the whole scene surrounding the nativity even if we add details to the story. We experience the generosity and joy of this day even if it is usually connected to Christmas presents and parties. We participate in this nativity even if we are at a historical distance. We continue to add to the story of Christ’s birth by adding ourselves into the ongoing telling of the story. We participate in it.
My hope for you this Advent and Christmas season is that the story of Christ’s entry into this world will come alive once more for you. Tell the story, but also notice that we are a part of it. We are living it.