One Christmas many years ago, my sister Kerry and I attempted a gingerbread house. Neither of us had ever made one before, and we assumed it would be an easy and fun project to get us in the Christmas mood. After it was too late, we found that assembling a house of gingerbread and candy was only slightly less complicated and labor intensive than constructing a real house—and we discovered that we were about as qualified to work in the mediums of sweets and cookie as we were to build with concrete and lumber.
In the end, our gingerbread house was more of a gingerbread hovel—the kind of place that gingerbread-zoning boards would condemn and even the most impoverished gingerbread citizens would look down upon. It was quite sad. But there is something wonderful about even the most poorly built gingerbread house: It’s still made of cookies and candy. Our project may have been a failure, but the pieces were delicious. When it comes to gingerbread houses, the parts can be greater than the whole.
A good story works this way too. A master storyteller is able to weave elements and characters together to engage his audience. The completed narrative is itself beautiful and rich, but each detail has a way of giving even more to the reader. Because of this depth, the best stories can be enjoyed on multiple levels. The whole “meal” can be consumed quickly with all the ingredients being tasted together, or the elements can be savored slowly and individually to reveal nuances that might be missed when mixed with other flavors. My favorite stories are those in which the details—the ingredients—can, at times, deliver something new.
When we come to the Christmas story in the Bible, the scenes are familiar—so familiar that many of us can no longer see the elements that make it such a great story. It’s like a gingerbread house that we’ve all forgotten is made of candy. We enjoy it on one level—that of a beautiful and meaningful account of the Savior’s birth—but we miss it on all the others. There is more to be enjoyed in the story of the first Christmas if we’ll stop, break off a piece, and chew on it for a while. The readings on the pages that follow are an attempt to help us do just that.