The Christmas season has returned, and for those of us in the church, we'll hear the same stories all over again. We've heard them since we were children and most of us know the stories by heart. Pity your poor pastor who must find something new to say though he's been preaching these same stories for 20 years!
But there's nothing wrong with familiar words.
Someone proposed a list of the five sweetest phrases in the English language:
1. Sleep 'til noon.
2. Here's that $20 I owe you.
3. Paid in full.
4. All is forgiven.
5. I love you.
We've heard these before, but we never tire of hearing them again!
One of my seminary profs, Dr. Henley Barnett, took issue with the phrase, "back to the Bible." He insisted the Bible wasn't behind us. It's way out in front of us, he said, and we've not caught up with it yet. I think he was correct.
The familiar stories of Christmas yet speak to our need to press on in Christian maturity.
The angel told Mary that though she'd never been with a man, she would bear God's child. The Holy Spirit would accomplish this. So Mary gave her body to the Holy Spirit. Paul insisted that we must do this, too, since our bodies belong to God (1 Corinthians 6:19). Every Christian needs to grow in personal holiness.
The angel told Joseph that he mustn't break off with Mary, but remain and be a father to Jesus. Joseph determined to face the disbelief and scorn of his countrymen and fulfill this role. He was committed to God despite opposition. Modern believers can profit from his example.
The angels told the shepherds about Jesus. Though they were of a lower caste than the general citizenry, the shepherds came boldly to worship Jesus. They demonstrate that all us sinners can come to Jesus despite the categories society arbitrates, and that no one should look down on others in God's kingdom.
And the educated and wealthy wise men came to worship Jesus, giving him costly gifts. So we must give our gifts to him for it more blessed to give than to receive. The church receives the gifts of her members and uses them to honor God.
A few years ago a Christian university president resigned amid charges of financial malfeasance. These charges included private jets, lavish vacations, cars and clothes. But for every abuse of God's money there are 10,000 stories of churches using God's money to teach the Bible, support missionaries and help people in need.
Are we there yet? Not hardly! The familiar stories of Christmas yet summon us forward in obedience to Christ.