The Internet is a place full of shadows. People come and go; they visit this blog as I visit others. One or two leave a comment, which is a most welcome and tangible sign of their visit. But most leave no more than an echo; something the system picks up to say that someone was here, visiting this page. Who they were and how long they stayed; whether they were challenged, horrified or simply indifferent, the echo doesn’t say; they are simply shadows.
I wrote the story, “A pregnancy, a donkey, and a whole bunch of questions” for an Advent service on 28 November 2010, and I posted it here two days later. There wasn’t much interest that year, and only 210 visitors looked at the story in the whole of 2011. This year, 2012, must be the year of the donkey, or the journey, or whatever, because 245 people viewed the story in November alone, and another 280 in December so far.
No doubt many of those who came, left with nothing more than a quick glance. Others perhaps stayed to read the story. What I’m interested in is whether someone out there has tried to use the story themselves somewhere else.
I used it again last Sunday at another church here in Pietermaritzburg. The response was very good, with the general comment being, “It finished too soon. I want to hear what comes next.”
It’s not often a preacher gets asked for more! Which is why I believe that we should tell more stories. There are risks in telling stories, which we don’t always want to take. With a sermon we lay the foundation, prepare the listeners, and then we draw them to the main point. The message (we hope) is clear, and it can be summarised in a few words.
A story is its own message. There is usually (as in the great stories of the Bible) an overall message of God’s grace, of God’s involvement in the world, of our struggle with God’s call, etc., but how people connect with the story is out of our hands.
In this story of Mary and Joseph’s journey, it is not the dialogue or their assumptions that matter. The key is simply recognising that the conversation took place; that Mary and Joseph were real people like us, who would have asked the same questions we ask, with the same fears. Yet they found a way to engage with God, and to trust him for the impossible future to which he was calling them.
When we begin to understand the people of the Bible in this way, as their experience and their encounter with God becomes more real to us (and more like ours), we can more readily engage with their story, and their story becomes our story. We can no longer ignore the challenge that their lives present; we can no longer say “well, it was all very well for them….” It wasn’t all very well at all. Yet as they listened and responded to God’s challenge, they began to reflect God’s glory, and their light still shines for us today.
Their story is no longer a fairy tale of otherworldly people, whose feet don’t quite touch the ground, and whose eyes are constantly raised heavenward. They are people like us. God took his chance with them, as he does with us. He loved them in their misunderstanding and lack of faith, as he loves us. He reached out to them when they were farthest away from him, as he does to us. They had the same questions we have, and God answered them as he seeks to answer us.
What has been your experience of story? Do they help or hinder your journey?