The Christmas story gets told differently by each
generation but the fundamental plot remains unchanged, writes
The refurbished Toitu Otago Settlers Museum has been
reopened. The ''No peeking we're changing'' signs are down.
We can go and see how the stories of Dunedin have been retold
for a younger generation and for the visitors we hope will
keep coming on cruise ships.
In retelling the story of Dunedin, it is not just a story of
Scottish forebears and their portraits on the walls, but of a
lively interaction with Maori, English, Chinese, Indian,
Polish and other forebears and with the many cultures and
religions that are part of who we are.
It has been funny driving past the museum these past few
years while it has been closed.
It was not that I wanted to go in it all the time - I have
not been for years - but I wanted it to be there in case I
did. Perhaps a bit like some people feel about churches; they
don't want to go there necessarily, but they want them to be
there in case they do.
Now I am looking forward to it. It is like Christmas had been
cancelled for a few years and we were waiting to see what it
would be like after it was refurbished. Because Christmas
also is a story that gets told in different ways for
The memories we may have of family Christmases and what we
ate and what we did are shifting. We know that much of how we
do Christmas is inspired not only by the story of Jesus but
by Charles Dickens, by the way the story of St Nicholas
turned into Father Christmas, by the tradition of a tree
brought to England from Germany by Prince Albert and
popularised by Victoria and the Royal Family.
Every year, somebody rediscovers that Christmas was a pagan
festival which Christians hijacked for a midwinter
celebration of the birth of Jesus.
It is actually what is still going on - and it is still part
of the fun both to share our celebrations in families and
communities and tell the story of Jesus.
We should feel good about simple things we do as individuals
and communities: Christmas music, medieval and modern, advent
candles and advent calendars.
Christmas plays imagining the animals and wise men and
shepherds. Singing the Messiah, making connections in our
hearts and words between the gifts we share and the gift of
There is a certain gift of freedom to let our imagination go
wild about what universal peace and the love of God for all
people might look like and what it might have felt like to
share the drama of Jesus' arrival as God with us.
Things evolve: now it is email letters rather than Christmas
cards, but they too will change; family news rather than
verses and pictures; how we do presents, decorations which
turn into light shows on houses.
What will a Facebook Christmas come to look like?
Our understanding of the story also evolves.
Every year is different. Every year we are different and our
circumstances are different. We see things we did not see
The repetitions and the rituals year by year enable this.
There is security in the familiar. There is also growth in
Some parts of the Christmas story may not connect the way
they once did. The problems of the miraculous and the unusual
may become less of an issue, or more.
Our points of connection change as we move from childhood to
the anxieties of love to the responsibilities of parenthood,
to those who care for animals like the shepherds, or run
accommodation which gets full at times of the year like the
innkeeper, or who think about the signs of the times and
travel to discover what God is doing and worship the Lord in
Luke tells two parallel stories: the story of Elizabeth and
the story of Mary. Elizabeth is pregnant. Her cousin Mary has
experienced a message from God that she is also to become a
mother. Elizabeth's child we know as John the Baptist, Mary
is to become the mother of Jesus. Both pregnancies are
unexpected, both are associated with prophecies about God's
role in what was happening and who these children might be.
Everything we read about the invasive speculations into Kate
and William's expected baby is here as well. Where was it
Where will the child be in the line to the throne?
There is also tragedy and the suffering of the innocents.
Mary is not yet pregnant. Even though she and Joseph have
plans for their future, her child will not only be related to
King David through Joseph, but will have a bigger role in
God's scheme of things than she could possibly imagine.
The contrast between her humble status in life and what this
seems to be about is too much. It is not surprising that she
is ''deeply troubled''.
She does two sensible things: first, she accepts the
situation and God's will. Second, she goes to talk with
someone who has had a similar experience who will understand
something of what is happening to her, her cousin Elizabeth.
When they meet, John the Baptist gives his mother a kick, and
they take it as a sign. Then we have Mary's song of praise,
the Magnificat, from the first word sung in Latin. As a hymn
it is still sung frequently. It was one of the scriptures I
was expected to learn at a Presbyterian school in the late
Of course it is a Jewish statement of faith, but it is also
one in which Christians and others can see themselves. It is
thanking God for coming to call ordinary people to take part
in the purpose of creation and the vision of a world at
For Mary that was God with her in her relationship with
Joseph, in the hazards of the birth of Jesus and the threats
from people like Herod, their years in exile in Egypt, and
their return to their land, and all the joys and sadness of
parenthood, its responsibilities and helplessness, as we
watch, pray and do what we can for our children. But I think
it is the story of people like us as well: it is in praise of
God and humble obedience that we find ourselves and find God
and find salvation for ourselves and for our communities.
This is the story of Jesus and the story of Christmas, and
our story, too.
John Roxborogh is a Presbyterian minister and church
historian living in Dunedin.