I have been asked to tell a story about Christmas. Well, after some soul searching I’ve decided to talk, not just about Christmas itself, but about the longevity of a message. It’s about storytelling and how one story survived the Test of Time.
It’s about a young Jewish man who claimed to be the “Son of God”
Now today that doesn’t sound so unusual because we all claim to be the sons or daughters of our maker - the great universe - our God. But two thousand years ago this was quite a claim because no one ever claimed to be the “Son of God” before, and to be so emphatic and insistent about it. It was blasphemy.
But this young man’s claim was taken to heart by a select group of people who also took his teachings to heart. That his teachings were of such great consequence, that this must have been a very special man, worthy of greatness. He was charismatic and he spoke a different message from the others of his culture. That God is within us all. Quite different.
Now the story tells that he was of the people, born in a stable, visited by men, perhaps Kings from the east. Carrying many presents: Gold, frankincense and whatever essence myrrh is. It was a sight to behold. This little baby surrounded by goats, and sheep and cows and kings, in fact surrounded by life itself.
Then the story heads into obscurity for many years.We don’t know if he was a contentious teenager or a spoiled brat. But we do hear that he learned to be a carpenter and a Rabbis. That he became a teacher, a preacher and eventually capital punishment caught up with him for being a rebel rouser, and he was accused of being a dissenter of the basic rules of his own culture. And of course for blasphemy.
Not many great stories survive the Test of Time because not much was ever written down in ancient times, or if it was it was most likely written in a single volume that could be lost or destroyed. Of course story telling in speeches and fireside chats has been passed down through the generations, but one man picked this story up long after it happened and he believed in it.
This man who became known as Saint Paul, made it his quest to spread the WORD, write about it and transform it into something greater. So you might say it was legend, embellished pontification or good storytelling that it has come down to us. And the story survived the Romans, through the dark ages, through the renaissance in a big way. It survived Kings and Kingdoms and great powers and wars. And it caused wars. And every time they fought a war about it, it spread more
Again, It’s a compelling story of this good man from the middle east who was born and died in Israel at the time of the Roman occupation, and who, in a very few years compiled such a resume of great teachings, that those teachings along with the Jewish Bible, became the essence of the literature of mankind. A remarkable accomplishment for a remarkable story.
But why did it survive? Well, there was more to it. There was magic that grabbed the hearts of the masses. It had panache, Kings, inept Kings, peace and violence. Oh! such violence. It had miracles and enchantment, love and sex. No sorry, no sex. And this is where the story gets it's impetus, because the story told that he was born of a virgin mother, that an angel came and told her that she would have a child. The story also told that during his life he performed miracles: walking on water, water into wine, raising people from the dead, and after he died on the cross he arose from the dead to motivate his friends to go out and preach about his teachings. And if it wasn’t for the two divine related magical occurrences, the virgin birth and his resurrection, the whole story of this young man may never have survived this long.
So, as the story moved from man to legend, Saint Paul and his followers turned this simple story into a religion called Christianity. They thought so highly of the claim of this man from Israel, that he indeed was the “Son of God”, that they deemed him to be the Savoir, a Christ, which means: both God and Man "the Messiah" sent to save the human race from sin. So the birth of this man was celebrated as a Christian Mass. Hence Christ Mass or Christmas.
The churches of the followers employed many monks to translate the story into books - bibles. They sat in the back rooms of their churches and monasteries writing up great words and great embellishments to make it even greater. And like most stories, there were mistakes made when translating from one language to another. From the original Aramaic language to English. It took so much time to hand write these volumes that there weren’t many of them made. But the word spread anyway, to the day in 1452 when the Gutenberg printing press was used to make two hundred copies of this book, and then there were more made. The story spread to the farthest reaches of humanity. Spread by believers sent to tell their tale of their faith in the story.
It’s a story that was passed through the centuries. Through the cultures and peoples. Every religion and every human on the face of the earth has heard this story. And this story has survived for over two thousand years, sent down to us, to you and me in a very personal way with words of wisdom, of metaphors and inspirations, of motivations and great courage, of how to be a good person and how to get along with people.
These are the traditions of great storytellers, that to get the point across we must tell a story well and from the heart, grab the emotion and tell something that people can relate to and be in AWE of.
This story also caught the imaginations of many artists. And it’s the artists who reflect on society of the times: the magnificent churches and cathedrals across Europe, the wonderful inspirational music of Beethoven, Handel, Mozart, Schubert, Bach and Jingle Bells. The stain glass, the paintings and all this combined with the Jewish celebration of lights, the pagan celebration of winter solstice and the decorated trees from Germany. And St. Nicholas, the giver of gifts, who was enrolled in this celebration as Santa Clause (Saint Nicholas).
So all this celebration from many cultures came to magnify the story of Christmas as we know it. And all around the world this story has taken over to add color and life at this bleak, cold, sleepy time of year. Shop decorations of red, white and green, the great Santa Clause parades, the homes full of Christmas trees, lights and treats, of turkey and mistletoe, kids faces and grandmother cookies. And through all this, the message of this young Jewish man prevails. It still shines through.
This man who wanted to tell us that to be good is to be of the universe, of your God. Who ever that may be.
This is the story of civilization. The universal message of good over evil and the celebration of life. A baby who brought us the birth of change, of spring, of hope for the world. And that’s what makes the story so compelling. It’s so simple.
In the end, as our room full of story tellers know, it's all about the stoy. That to tell a good story will will always help the truth or a rendetion of it, prevail. And hopefully the truth is in the simplicity of the message itself.
This message also has a call to action. Peace on Earth - Good will to all.
At this very special time of year, the message from me is that no matter what holiday you celebrate or what your faith is, may I wish you a very Merry Christmas and to all, a goodnight.