A View from the Pew: Hearing the Story

Pew_sm“A Charlie Brown Christmas” aired in 1965, and a generation formed an indelible association with the passage from Luke 2 and the recitation of the Christmas story by the character Linus Van Pelt.

Born in 1970, I am definitely of that generation, and each year as Christmas draws near, I can’t help but hear the 7-year-old actor’s voice with its unique qualities evoking images of shepherds, a stable, angels, and the newborn baby.

As a result of this conflation of popular culture and religious upbringing, my Christmas is never quite complete until I’ve heard the Christmas story from Luke 2 read aloud. I can read it on my own all day long, but it doesn’t have the same impact as hearing it read by another. Maybe that’s why I’ve grown to love my church’s tradition of doing just that. During our Christmas Eve service, our pastor invites all the children to the front. He sits in a winged back chair while holding the newest baby born into the congregation and reads from Luke 2 and Matthew 1-2.

Everyone’s eyes are drawn to the infant, which I’m sure was the pastor’s point in starting this tradition so many years ago. The child, regardless of gender, becomes a living, breathing, and sometimes fussing and crying visual aid in telling the story. We can picture the fragility and preciousness of the baby Jesus even as we contemplate the incarnation of God in human form.

It was especially meaningful the year our youngest was the baby held on Christmas Eve. I was probably more nervous that he wouldn’t cooperate and didn’t focus quite as much on the story, but when it’s your kid up there, you pay attention in a different way. You inhabit the story through Mary and Joseph and experience a connection more grounded in realism than in a romanticized narrative.

Not only does my Christmas need the story to be read aloud, it needs to be the King James Version, the biblical translation I grew up with and the one used by Linus. Other translations of Luke 2 sound discordant to me in a way that takes me out of the story, causing it to land with a thud on my ears and never quite reach my heart.

It is simultaneously familiar and mysterious. It annually stirs my childhood fascination with the story of how God was born a human in humble circumstances to a traveling Middle Eastern couple who couldn’t find a place to stay.

The presence of shepherds and angels captures the imagination of children. The birth of a baby to anxious parents draws me in as an adult.

So as the final days of Advent pass all too quickly and you find yourself at Christmas Eve, I hope you have the opportunity to hear and relate to the Christmas story again. It’s not just a story for children. It’s for all of us.

Lance Wallace_for_webLance Wallace is a Baptist layperson and member of Parkway Baptist Church in Johns Creek, GA, does media relations and issues management at his day job, and blogs at newsouthessays.com.

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