tell me that sweet, old story

by Zach Kincaid
on the last of the 12 days of Christmas

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Sometimes pastors shouldn't use their imagination to embellish Scripture. There are certainly some passages that need a little nudge. The spies hiding on Rahab's roof, little David and big, giant Goliath, even Peter's magic shadow might be candidates. I remember reading Sarah Hadas's great take on Abraham from the perspective of his wife Sarah. It asked you to consider how crazy Abraham acted from watching fire parade through halved animals to the sacrifice of Issac. The Midrash is a great source for imaginative thought on linking up ideas and commentating on the biblical account. For example, the Midrash suggests that we are linked by the milk of Sarah as much as we are the blood of her patriarchal husband.

But these days, imagination can run silly, especially when it's interjected in the magical story of Jesus' birth. Already the incarnation offers more to the believer than any other story. Angels light up the sky along with a giant star which is off its orbit. You have Persians who shouldn't know anything, reading old dusty books like the contemporary Gandolf, and assess that a child king is born... that this is even God himself. You have a virgin who mysteriously gets pregnant from the divine, fulfilling all those half-baked twisted Greek tales and many more. So, for a pastor to ignore all those wild, unwieldy points for the sake of something "fresh," I can only laugh hysterically. That's safer than going off and punching him on Christmas Eve.

For the past several years our pastor in Macon took the course of imagining new tales to weave into Christmas. The classic invite for children to join him at the front kicked off story time. The first year he had asked three men of the congregation to act as wise men. They came down to the front on queue as he was explaining that the wise men brought what they could - their gifts. One of the men was a carpenter, the other an engineer, the third was a lawyer. So he brought the story of Eastern kings to Central Georgia. Wow. Really? Sure, we are to bring our whole bodies as living sacrifices, but is Christmas about that? Indirectly, perhaps. The tale seemed to detract from the wonder and awe of incarnation.

It gets much worse. The next year, the chrismons apparently were talking among themselves during the week leading up to Christmas Eve. (Remember that chrismons are the symbolic ornaments that sometimes decorate the tree in a church.) Yes, those chrismons were trying to see who would make it to the top of the tree. They bickered with each other, as our pastor, hallucinating on some Far East drug no doubt, sat in the empty sanctuary, listening to talking ornaments. "Thankfully," he told the children, "the chrismons stopped their fighting and reasoned with each other about the point of their shiny brilliance on the tree of Christmas. That's why, boys and girls, baby Jesus is smiling." He then asked the children to line up and walk in front of this old world, very elaborate nativity set, where, yes, Jesus' arms were opened and he was smiling... I guess for the peaceful chrismons. That makes sense.

The following year beat the two previous ones. Take a three-legged talking sheep named Lucy, caring neighbor sheep, a mountain lion, and a baby Jesus who could apparently talk and reason, and you have the Christmas story. Right? So the way this story goes is that Lucy is out of sorts because she couldn't run the way the other sheep ran with their shepherds. Out from nowhere came a Bethlehem miracle - a mountain lion who takes it upon himself to carry Lucy on his back to see Jesus. When they get to the barn, Jesus notices Lucy and her crippled state. "Does he heal her?" the pastor asks the boys and girls all dressed up for Christmas service. No, that would be too "big Jesus like." Instead little baby Jesus reasons with her about ailments that will always be part of life and, with God's strength, she could do great things and overcome many odds. And, you know what? She walked all the way back to the pasture that night... arm in arm with the mountain lion. OK, I made that last part up, but this was the story the pastor told to the little children on that Christmas Eve night.

I guess it wrapped up nicely with "Silent Night" sung in a candlelit sanctuary. That was the redemptive measure.

My advise is to just stop talking. Instead, take the story of Jesus - his birth, life and resurrection - and work your thoughts through Scripture to arrive at a narrative that is true to the account and not crazy nuts. How about it? The stories are pregnant with miracles, demons, angels, magic muddy spit, rising dead, special clothes, insane pigs, tomb dwellers and grace (the most reckless thing of all) already. Too bad that today the pastor who taught taught these wacky things is so far from the truth, I don’t know how to place him.