Every year at Christmas there seems to be pressure. Not just pressure to buy the right present, decorate the tree, or hang the lights on the house without them falling down in the wind. Instead, it seems like there is always pressure to tell the Christmas story is some new and exciting way that people will listen to. Maybe I’m just mindful of this because I work in a church setting and part of my role is to preach on Sundays, but there seems to be a pressure during December to make the story interesting enough that people will still listen. The truth is, people know the story of Christmas. Maybe there is a nuance of the story that will be new, or maybe you’ll have someone in the gathering that is new to Christianity and doesn’t know all the stories yet, but those situations are more anomalies than the norm. Instead, most people both inside and outside of church know the story by heart. So the pressure is how to keep them listening and not being bored.
It’s not that the nativity story is boring, it’s a fascinating story filled with intrigue, romance, conflict, and danger. The pressure is not in trying to take a boring story and make it interesting. The pressure is trying to do something that hasn’t been done before. Trying to present the message in a way that people won’t just tune out because they’ve heard it before.
Preachers thus look for a new angle every year to keep members interested. Children’s ministries and drama groups design elaborate productions to present the story while also entertaining the masses. Everyone is trying to figure out how to tell the Christmas story in a way that will make it get heard again, because the story is worth repeating.
In the midst of this pressure comes a scene from the old Charlie Brown Christmas Special when Linus tells the story of Christmas. If you’ve seen it before you’ll remember the scene. Charlie Brown has been struggling with the meaning of Christmas. He laments that it has become commercialized, that people are just thinking about productions, and their parts in the Christmas play. Everyone seems worried about finding the perfect tree and the perfect decorations that he wonders aloud, does anyone even know the true meaning of Christmas. During one of his outbursts of frustrations Linus says, “I’ll tell you the true meaning of Christmas.” He then goes to center stage and recounts part of Luke 2 and the birth narrative. “That’s what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown,” he says before closing.
As I encountered that clip again yesterday I was struck at the simplicity of it all. The power of the story is not in all of the exciting ways it can be told, or the elaborate productions. The power of the story is in its simplicity. The power of the story is that Jesus came to earth and his birth changed the course of history. The power of the story is that because of the birth of Christ, peace has been brought to earth and good news has been proclaimed. There should not be the pressure of trying to discover some new and exciting way to tell the story so that it will be heard. The message can sometimes get lost in the many ways of telling the story and the production that comes with it. The power, instead, is in the simple retelling of the story and remembering the true meaning of Christmas, God came to Earth.
During these last few days before Christmas there can be a lot going on. Finishing projects at work, traveling to see family, last-minute shopping, and wrapping gifts can consume us and our time. But as we experience these last few days before Christmas may we be reminded of a very simple story that makes the season so beautiful. The virgin was with child and gave birth to a son and they named him Jesus. He was Emmanuel, which means God with us. It’s a very simple, yet very beautiful story.