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Our neighbor George recently commented that "their story must be our story, or it is simply a story and the world goes on."

What do you mean, I asked, that "the world goes on?" Two days after Christmas Day, he replied, he went to the local Dollar Store to pick up a couple of post-Christmas items. The Christmas items had been replaced with Valentine's Day items. Another holiday was coming, and the story of Christmas was suddenly gone.

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That story simply means the story of Mary and Joseph, the manger, the shepherds, and the star. It is the story of the Nativity. If we don't internalize the story — that is, make it our own — then it remains their story. For many the story is told once each year and it is over. "If there is no room in our inn then 'Merry Christmas' mocks the Christ Child and the Holy Family is just a holiday card and God will loathe our feasts and festivals," Ann Weems wrote in her book, "Kneeling in Bethlehem."

The eighth-century B.C. prophet Amos went a step further when he wrote "I hate, I despise your festivals and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies … But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream" (NRSV Amos 5.21,24).

On the other hand, it becomes our story — or, even better, my story — when we go to Bethlehem, we see the manger and we experience the miracle of Christmas for ourselves. The message of Christmas is love — God's love for each and every one of us. But don't stop there. God's love must be experienced in how we relate to one another. In a sense, when we are blessed we are called to be a blessing.

The story, or rather my story, is not simply a group of holidays but a series of interconnected tales of faith that are part of the larger story of the Creator's love of the creation.

In a few weeks the Christian community will move from the season of Epiphany to the season of Lent. In and of itself Lent is important only as it points beyond itself to the day of resurrection called Easter. The 40 days of Lent offer us the opportunity to prepare for the offer of new life. I like the words of Psalm 51.10, which says to "create in me a clean heart O God, and put a new and right spirit within me." This is our hope for the Lenten season.

If we truly observe Lent — that is, to ask God to come inside of us to clean out all of the junk we have accumulated and put a new and clean heart in us — then the season takes on new meaning.

The final week of Lent, called Holy Week, is a special one for believers. Many put the emphasis on the sacrificial system of the Jews and thus on Good Friday and the crucifixion of Jesus. What I have found meaningful, if not more meaningful, is the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem, often called Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday.

It is more than the traditional "hosannas" and the throwing of palms. Jesus deliberately enters the city knowing full well that he probably will never come out alive. He is not suicidal. He does not want to die. In coming through the city gates he confronts those who want to destroy the miracle of love that we experienced in the Nativity.

The poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said it well: "And in despair I bowed my head: 'There is no peace on earth,' I said; 'For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men!'"

In making his grand entrance Jesus basically says if you want me here I am. Love does not sneak in under the cover of darkness or the back door of the city wall. His message is that love — not hate, not separation, not division — is the way of God. In the words of the prophet Amos, true love wants justice and righteousness.

The biblical story of Palm Sunday becomes more than a story but rather part of your story. When we internalize the story we are the ones who ride in to face oppression, injustice and evil. We are the ones who are willing to live out our story of Nativity in daily life.

Let the dialogue continue. I only ask that you think on these things.

The Rev. Dr. Wm. Louis "Lou" Piel is pastor of Mount Zion United Methodist Church in Finksburg and can be reached at julo1@verizon.net.

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