December 21, 2023


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The fourth Sunday in Advent falls on December the 24th this year.  The Lectionary Readings include 2 Samuel 7: 1-11, 16 ‘God’s Covenant with David’ and Luke 1: 26-38 ‘The Birth of Jesus Foretold’.  Two great stories of two unlikely candidates, being David the shepherd-boy-become-king; and Mary, the teenage mother of Jesus.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing in the lives of these two reasonably unremarkable people, was their love and trust in God.

In today’s readings, David is promised through the prophet Nathan that God will establish his kingdom for all time; and Mary is promised through the angel Gabriel that God’s son will be born of her and that this son, who will be named Jesus, will be given the throne of his ancestor David, and his kingdom will never end.

What a promise; what a vision.  What a grand story, written down for us to hear and learn

What a great story for us to enter into and to share in.  What a story . . . . .

The Five Epic Stories of humanity

17 years ago Margie and I attended a conference in Melbourne on the Emerging Missional Church.  One of the speakers, Brian McLaren, shared with us about the Five Epic stories of Humanity.  Let me see if I can summarise these for you:

First is the Empire story:  This story says that we will have peace and security through the power of the empire; through domination.  Everything will be okay, just so long as everyone does what the Empire says. And if they don’t they will be crushed.

Think of the Babylonian Empire; the Egyptian Empire; the Greek Empire; the Roman Empire; and in our own times the British Empire; the American Global Empire; and the rising Chinese Empire.

Next is the Victim story:  This is the story of revolution. It says that we will have peace and security if only the revolution will succeed.  If only we can get the oppressors off our head; Then things will be okay for everyone.

The third story is the Purity story (sometimes called the Shame/Blame story):  It’s just a question of living pure lives.  In Jesus’ day the Scribes and Pharisees told this story, “If only those terrible sinners (the prostitutes, the tax collectors and so on) would stop their impure activities, God would stop punishing us and everything would be alright.”  It is a story that says we will have peace and security through purity; once we get rid of the impure elements in our society. Do you know anyone telling that story today?

The fourth Epic story of humanity is the Prosperity story:  It’s based on the premise that everyone benefits as our society becomes more prosperous, “Once we all get rich enough, it will be okay for everyone.”  This is sometimes called the dual narrative, because it is really a story of ‘getting richer’, for the rich to ease their conscience, and then is made out that prosperity equals peace and security, as if the two are the same.  In Jesus day it was the Saducees, the Herodians, the Tax Collectors and the Stewards who told this story.  Who is it for us today?

The fifth Epic story of humanity is the story of the Elite Remnant:  The script here is that the world is all going down the gurgler anyway; there’s nothing can be done to save it; So we will isolate ourselves from the unclean and those who cannot be saved.  We will isolate ourselves and attend to our own disciplines so that when the end of the world comes, we at least will be taken to a place of peace and security.

McLaren said that these stories have been active throughout all of human history and are still active today.  These 5 Epic human stories:  The Empire story;  The Victim Story;  The Purity story;  The Prosperity story; and The Elite Remnant story

Whatever is the dominant story in your mind, becomes the dominant activity in your life, and then becomes the dominant reality in your world. Or so the reasoning goes.

And if you want to change the world, you need to tell a new story.  Change the substance of the story and don’t just re-arrange the deckchairs on the Titanic.

A Sixth Story 

Fortunately there is a sixth story – it is the story of the kingdom of God.

Yes, I know that is old language and some might prefer to talk about the reign of God.  That’s okay.  I’m just sharing what McLaren outlined for us and the language works well enough.

The story of the kingdom of God is the story of healing and liberation for all people; through love, the power of forgiveness, grace and reconciliation.  It is focused and encapsulated in the readings of Advent 4.  The shepherd boy David and the teenage mother, Mary, are both a part of this story.  So too are you and I if we choose to be.  The story of Jesus is a good story to help shape a better world, is it not?  But it’s a dangerous story too.  It challenges the other five epic stories of humanity.  So expect some opposition from those wedded to one of the other stories.

What is Christmas really about?

Christmas time offers us an opportunity to reflect on our lives and reflect on the dominant stories in the world around us.  It offers us an opportunity to remember and reflect on the story of Jesus.

This has been a year of significant difficulty for many of us; and it aint over yet;

This has been a year of sorrow; a year of struggle; a year of sadness.  Sadness, I have observed  – eventually gives way either to fear or gives way to love.  Have you noticed that?

We who have had a tough year can easily become disheartened.  And yet we who are battered and bruised, who are unlikely candidates to share the story of the Kingdom of God,

find that like David and like Mary our lives have been touched by this story and we have been drawn into the very fabric of the story; and so we can do no other, but share it.

At Christmas time this is the story we remember, the story of the kingdom of God; of healing and liberation for all people, through love, the power of forgiveness, grace and reconciliation.

We re-tell, re-construct, re-create, this story.  We embellish the story with prophets and angels; with memories and traditions of past Christmases; and it comes alive, doesn’t it?

Why do we decorate our houses?  And put out nativity sets?  Why do we decorate our places of worship?  And sing carols? And attend carol services and concerts?

We do all this to keep the story alive.  This story matters to us, doesn’t it? It’s a story of long ago that is woven throughout human history and reaches down to us over the centuries.

It’s the ongoing story of God leading people from death to life; from falsehood to truth;

from despair to hope; from fear to trust; from hate to love; and from war to peace (the peace that fills the heart, the world and the universe)

It is ultimately the story that can displace the fear in our lives with love.

It’s the story of God with us; God who is always with us; in all things and at all times; the story that tells us that nothing can separate us from the love of God, in Christ.

Whatever is the dominant story, becomes the dominant force, becomes the dominant reality – – in your life – – both individually and also collectively for humanity.  So, let’s tell a good story.

As followers of the Christ it is our mandate to tell the story of the kingdom of God; to tell the true story, the wonderful, liberating and healing story of the real kingdom of God that has come into human history through Jesus Christ.  Our obligation is to keep the story alive.  And so we tell it:

Long, long ago in a land far, far away, called Judea, the wind was blowing through the olive trees around the little town of Bethlehem, and sheep lay on the hillside, watched over by shepherds under the wide star-filled Judean night sky.  This was near the town of David, the town where the shepherd-king  had lived 1000 years earlier.  And on this night a young couple, descendants of David, arrived from the north tired and hungry.  Mary, still a wide-eyed teenager, very heavy with child, sat astride a humble donkey, led by her husband Joseph, who was frantically knocking on doors to find a place where they could stay.  As the stars sparkled and the cool wind blew, there was a hush of expectation in the air . . . .   

I encourage you to re-read the stories of Jesus’ birth and think about what it means for us all.  Read it to your children and to your grandchildren; sing songs about it; give cards that tell the story; live out the story through your own story through acts of kindness and compassion. Tell the story and live the story.  And if enough of us do this, things will begin to change for the better, won’t they?  Happy Christmas.  Happy story-telling.

Rev Tony Goodluck


Uniting Church in Australia, Northern Synod