Story: Don’t Stop Me if You’ve Heard This One Before

December 25, 2022

Isaiah 62:6-12
Luke 2:1-20

So… Don’t stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

Once upon a time there was a woman named Mary, and she was expecting a baby. It was a special baby, which you’d think would mean that she’d be as comfortable as she could be when the baby was born – a nice room, plenty of helpers, that sort of thing – but instead she found herself far from home, amidst strangers except for Joseph, and putting her newborn baby in an animal’s feeding trough to sleep because there wasn’t any room in the inn.

You’ve heard this one before, haven’t you? I can tell.

Don’t stop me, though.

There were animals around when she wrapped the baby up and set him down to sleep. I mean, he was lying in their eating spot. I’m sure they were curious. A couple might have been a bit annoyed because where were they going to eat? If it had been you, would you be OK if somebody put a newborn lamb on your plate at your place at the dinner table?

A couple of those animals might have felt that way, too.

There’s some old stories – not as old as the story of the baby, but old – that say that the animals in that stable gained the ability to speak that night. It faded away in a short time, but that story says that they regain that power of speech each Christmas Eve – last night – but people never hear them because we’re all asleep.

And so the honu surfaces on the star-lit ocean and whispers to the ‘ulili on the shore, “Spread the word! God’s savior is in the world. Peace on earth, good will to all!”

The ‘ulili trots on its stilt legs until it finds a dozing saffron finch. “Spread the word! God’s savior is in the world. Peace on earth, good will to all!”

The saffron finch spreads its small wings and finds the sleeping nene. “Wake up! Spread the word! God’s savior is in the world. Peace on earth, good will to all!”

The nene takes to the sky and honks out to all who can hear, “Spread the word! God’s savior is in the world! Peace on earth, good will to all!”

On the mountain slopes, the ‘apapane awakes, and though I’m afraid that he’s cross, he flutters about and sings, “Spread the word! God’s savior is in the world! Peace on earth, good will to all!”

High above, the ‘io leaves off hunting for a moment, and soars over the bay, calling once more, “Spread the word! God’s savior is in the world! Peace on earth, good will to all!”

Now, you and I, we slept through all that. And with midnight gone, the creatures of Hawai’i have gone back to their regular voices, their everyday songs. So we have to take up the message, don’t we?

Spread the word. God’s savior is in the world. Let us bring peace on earth, and share our good will with all.

by Eric Anderson

Watch the Recorded Story

I told this story from memory of the text above – which means that between memory and improvisation, there are differences.

Photo by Eric Anderson.

Christmas Eve 2022

This poem closed the Christmas Eve meditation at Church of the Holy Cross UCC in Hilo, Hawai’i, on Christmas Eve 2022.

May the infant born two thousand years ago,
emerge again into our restless lives,
to overturn the pretense of our egos,
to comfort where we feel the stings of strife.

Awake the wonder of the Christ child,
sleeping in that manger of our memory,
as angels’ songs were echoed by the shepherds,
to summon us from our complacency.

May hope rekindle in our weary hearts
and faith revive within our flagging souls
for Christ is born, and God’s salvation comes
to make the world and all its people whole.

The image is The Nativity and the Annunciation to the Shepherds by Bicci di Lorenzo (ca. 1440) – Harvard Art Museums, Public Domain,

Mary’s Treasury

The Birth of Jesus – Luke 2:1-20

But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. – Luke 2:19

Treasuries, they say, are filled with gold.
The mansions of the powerful protect the rooms
whose contents build the edifices which enclose them.

A treasury, they tell me, is the due of you, dear child,
a message from the heavens (though it strangely smells of sheep),
and so I lay your well-wrapped form in straw.

An angel spoke to me, he did, and told me not to fear.
I thought his greeting odd, but much odder was his word,
to tell me that I would become the mother of a King.

A mother I’ve become, but what royal babe is so
conceived to summon those suspicious eyes?
They’ve followed me for months, though not to Bethlehem.

A mother I’ve become, as witnessed by my groans and pains,
by midwife, by my worried Joseph, by the ox
whose manger I’ve now stolen for my infant’s bed.

The bloodied rags have vanished, whisked away
by midwife’s hands. I tell you, it is hard to hold
to memories of angels as a child crowns.

They came, then, those poor wanderers of the fields,
abandoning their flocks by night to see a child
in a manger. A child. A Savior. A Messiah King.

They spoke of angels singing in the skies,
they spoke of glory shining all around them, and
they spoke of peace, God’s peace, for all.

In honesty, I’d like to know the reason that
the angels sang to shepherds, not to me, this night,
since Gabriel’s words have faded in this place.

I’d like to hear the angel once again assure me that
the treasury of royalty will be my son’s someday,
that he will grow and thrive and save and rule.

For now I must content myself with angels’ echoes
in the voices of the poor. For now I must content
myself with pondering their words within my heart.

An inn without a room. A stable and a manger.
Angels’ voices echoed. Son, your treasury tonight
contains no gold. Instead, it is your mother’s heart.

A poem/prayer based on Luke 20:1-20, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year A, the Nativity of the Lord (Proper I).

The image is The Birth of Jesus with Shepherds. JESUS MAFA. The birth of Jesus with shepherds, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved December 22, 2022]. Original source: (contact page:

Christmas Eve 2021

Such fear upon that blessed night:

The fear of Joseph, who had failed
to find a shelter proper for the birth.

The fear of Mary, who had never birthed
a child before, nor known her body to take charge.

The fear of neighbors, who awoke
to sounds of labor echoing.

The fear of stable owner, wondering
if father’s stormy brow meant violence.

The fear of midwife, all experienced
with healthy births – and infant deaths.

The fear of all, when mother’s screams
went silent, and the universe was hushed.

The fear of mother, marveling to hold
a newborn who would not be comforted.

The fear of angels, asking if a band
of shepherds was their audience.

The fear of shepherds, so the messenger
said first, “O do not be afraid.”

The fear of singers in the heavens’ choir,
lest heaven’s song lack harmony.

The fear of watchmen at the gate,
confronted by the shepherd band.

The fear of seekers for the infant Christ,
uncertain where to find the stable bed.

The fear of parents, shocked to see
the hillsides’ wanderers had come.

The fear of parents, hearing angels’ words,
which would the fear of monarchs generate.

The fear of monarchs, which would bring
no celebration, only tears like rain.

The fear of sleeping child. Who can know
what infants know? And who can say
what infant Jesus knew of dusty days
and stormy seas and quiet conversations
by the water’s edge, of questions over meals
and by a paralytic’s cot and in the shadows of
the night, of lepers leaping thanks unspoken
save for one, of baptism and Satan’s snares
and stories told and proverbs taught
and so much more, and so much more,
all leading to an agonizing cross
and to a tear-swept joyful dawn.

A poem/prayer based on Luke 2:1-20, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year C, Nativity of the Lord, Proper I.

The image is The Adoration of the Shepherds (ca. 1612-1614) by El Greco, 1541?-1614, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved December 24, 2021]. Public Domain. Original source:

In Those Days

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. – Luke 1:39-40

In those days, Luke? Say rather:
“After her imagined life had been upset
by visitation of an angel,
Mary saw the pretenses of life too well,
her friends and loved ones, neighbors, too,
persisting in a sad semblance of ‘normal’
when the love of God was breaking in.

“She fled because her efforts to
acquaint the villagers of Nazareth
with blessing, with deliverance,
were greeted with polite discount,
with blank incomprehension,
silent disbelief, and smirks that smack
of shame and slander.

“She fled because she had no outlet for
the wonder bottled up inside,
no person who would recognize the glory.
Who but one already bearer of
a miracle would comprehend
a miracle before her?

“So in those days she fled. When Mary stood
upon the threshold of Elizabeth, received
a wave of welcome, knew they shared in wonder,
all the pain of others’ disbelief gave way,
and in a flood of tears she praised
magnificent reversal, pride dispersed,
power humbled, humble lifted,
hungry satisfied and wealthy leaving empty.

“For in the shared experience of grace,
they built on love’s foundation,
Mary and Elizabeth, to raise up faith
and hope and joy that others would not see.”

Write that, Luke. It’s what you meant by,
“In those days.”

A poem/prayer based on Luke 1:39-55, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year C, Fourth Sunday of Advent.

The image is Visit of Mary to Elizabeth by Fr. George Saget, a portion of a larger mural behind the altar of Keur Moussa Abbey in Senegal. Downloaded from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved December 15, 2021]. Digital source photo by Jonas Roux – Flickr [1], CC BY 2.0,

Christmas 2020

Far from a barn in Bethlehem
in miles and in time,
remembering the stories passed
and wondering just how much
was forgot, and how much lost,
of Jesus’ birth that holy night.

Who will recall, in truth,
the circumstances of this year?
For though we think our times
“unprecedented,” it is just
a sign of swift forgetfulness,
a well-established human trait.

The griefs so hard to bear will not
be felt by our descendants, for we
did not recall the sorrows of
our ancestors, nor think to learn
from their successes or their failures to
protect ourselves from ill.

Nor will our children’s children hear
of ti leaves waving gently in the breeze
beyond the window’s Christmas glow.
Why should they? They will have their own
bedazzling sights and sounds at hand,
their own deep scents to breathe.

Now my tree’s glow (in echo of
ohi’a blossoming upon the slopes of
Kilauea) takes on the shades of stone
a-fountaining, a-flowing, and
a-pooling at the mountain peak.
This might be held in memory.

For this becomes a link between
the distant island of Hawai’i and the inn
of Bethlehem, the places where the Earth
grows thin, and from the deepest places
of the planet and the love of God
there flows the light a-glowing bright.

Yes, here we have the breaking-in of grace:
the one builds up the land and rises
from the seas. The other builds up love
and joy and peace, reclaiming souls
from greed and other-disregarding sin.
So come, Lord Jesus! Make the darkness bright.

Make this a holy Christmas.

It Begins

In the manger of Bethlehem, the infant sleeps.
On the Judean hillsides, the shepherds seek their flock.
Which of the parents dozes? The father?
The mother? Neither one? Both?
Love made flesh, power made weak,
Majesty made lowly, will soon awake in tears,
Seeking the warmth of skin and blood and milk.

Let that infant grow within our hearts.
Let that love take form within our purpose.
Let that mercy take shape in what we make.
Let that peace enfold those we embrace.
Let that grace shine forth just like that star:
Let the work of Christmas begin in me.
Let the work of Christmas begin in us.

A poem inspired in part by Luke 2 and in part by “The Work of Christmas” Howard Thurman. This poem was written for the Christmas Eve meditation of December 24, 2019, at Church of the Holy Cross UCC, Hilo, Hawai’i.

The image is The Birth of Christ (between 1570 and 1603) by Joos van Winghe –, Public Domain,

Christmas Eve 2019

A woman and an infant in the foreground of a stable.

“He promised me the Son of God, the angel did,”
she murmured to the sweating, focused midwife.
“Promise anything they will,” she answered,
not noticing her charge had spoken with an angel.
“Now push!” she cried. “And push again!” For in
the cries of birth what angel could be heard?

At length the growls and the gasping cease,
though night remains unblessed by silence. No.
“The Savior has good lungs,” the watching Joseph notes
and winces at his piercing tones, distressed
by all this labor and this hunger and this cold,
now swiftly stifled at the weary Mary’s breast.

“The angel promised me a Savior,” now she sighs
as Son of God tries once and twice and squalls,
frustrated, not to grasp the nourishment he seeks.
She gasps, adjusts the infant’s head by order
of the midwife, sighs. At last. The slurping sounds
distract her as the midwife mops away.

“Angels, now,” the midwife sighs. “There’s all too few of them.”
She gazes at the wincing man, wonders if this “angel”
hides a demon, decides to take the mother’s word.
“Come, angel. Pile up the straw behind your wife.
He’ll nurse much better once her back is straighter.”
“I’m not an angel,” says the man, redundantly. She knows.

“He promised me the Son of God.” Now Mary’s eyes
arrest the midwife’s gaze. “Of course he did, my love,”
she coos, finishes the cleaning, readjusts her gown.
“They’re all the Child of God, you know, and this one
is for you.” “Oh, no,” the mother says, as flatly as
a waveless sea. “This One is for us all.”

A meager coin in hand, the midwife steps into the night.
Another one convinced their baby is the Promised One,
she thinks. What sorrow for his mother if he follows
that drear road! She draws aside to let a band of grimy men
pass by. One asks about a baby in a manger, “So the angel said.”
She watches as they turn into the stable. Now: she wonders.

A poem based on Luke 2:1-20, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel reading for Year A, Christmas Eve.

The image is The Nativity by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale – Bonhams, lot 420, 19 March 2008, Chester, Public Domain,