First, of course, is the Gospel story: the prophets’ promise of a Messiah, the herald of that Messiah, the arrival of that Messiah, the visit of the Magi, and the Messiah’s brief but world-changing ministry.
The second story is your own. By that, I don’t mean the annual recitation of parish history or renewal of local traditions. I mean how the Gospel story is touching down in real lives today.
Many faith communities, for example, are caught up in the expanding recession. They care for victims of layoffs, foreclosures, and credit loads, but don’t stop there. They are also asking questions about values, wayward human behavior, and the roles that faith should play in the world.
Seasonal worshipers need to know that their faith community is dealing with issues of real life. Worshipers haven’t made an annual excursion to childhood reminiscence. They have come into a dynamic community struggling with confusion and pain.
Moreover, the community doing that struggling has changed. As time has brought new people and new needs, the community has taken on a new personality, a new heartbeat, a new cadence in prayer. Seasonal worshipers need to experience that new creation. For, at some level, it is that new creation they seek. They come to a familiar place hoping to be touched deeply, to have their own newness celebrated.
Much of the season remains tethered to tradition, of course. People expect to sing their favorite hymns and carols. They hope to see familiar faces. But there are ways to express the new story.
Preaching, for example, can reflect today’s real-life concerns. In photographs posted around the church and symbolic gestures such as people bringing up food for the homeless, the faith community can express today’s values.
The point is to celebrate both stories — Gospel and community — as signs of a living God making all things new.
Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of “Just Wondering, Jesus,” and the founder of the Church Wellness Project.