Voices of Christmas

Posted November 20th, 2012

Voices of ChristmasMy editor at Zondervan asked if I was interested in writing a retelling of an Old Testament story like David and Goliath, or Noah and the Ark. I said no thanks. Neither interested me, but I thought it might be fun to figure out a fresh way to tell the Christmas story. What if I told the story in the voices of the characters who were central to it? That was the question that led me down the rabbit hole of my imagination. Voices of Christmas, a story in poetry, was the result.

Truth be told, this approach was not as big a leap as you might imagine. A couple of years earlier, I’d written the Easter story in a similar fashion. That book, titled At Jerusalem’s Gate, explored Easter from the points of view of priests, disciples, Pontius Pilate, Pilate’s wife, and a host of other characters one meets in the traditional story. The Christmas book, though, was unique in that it was told not only from the point-of-view of the characters, but was written strictly in their voices, as well. This approach takes the reader more deeply into the story. When you hear the character speak, you are better able to view the unfolding mystery of Christmas through each character’s eyes.

It’s always a bit weird trying to figure out what kind of language to use when writing about people who lived thousands of years ago, and who spoke a very different language than your own. But then again, that’s part of the challenge, and part of the fun.

Creating details of the environment was helped by research, and by drawing from notes I’d taken on a trip to Israel. There’s simply no substitute for walking on the same ground where your character’s trod.

As always, I strove to climb into the skins of my characters, and to view the world through their eyes. One thing I’d never contemplated, though, was climbing into the skin of an angel! It seemed only natural, though, because Gabriel is the one who introduces us to the core of the Christmas story: it is Gabriel who brings Mary the message of the Christ child, soon to be born through her.

Eric Velazquez

Voices of Christmas illustrator Eric Velazquez and I shared a stage last year at NCTE. He made a wonderful Gabriel!

Gabriel is one of my favorite characters in the Bible, and in this book. Illustrator Eric Velazquez used himself as the model for Gabriel, and I love the result!

I decided to arrange the poems sequentially, so that the story would move from prophecy to fulfillment. I wanted the story to unfold for the reader as is it were happening in real time. The hope was that the reader would feel a part of the story. To underscore that idea, I address the last poem to the reader. After introducing Gabriel, Mary, the shepherd, the Inn Keeper, three Magi, King Herod, and the rest, I ask the reader:

And who are you?
Not an angel, no.
Nor Herod.
But perhaps you are
a magi, mapping the miracle
on a chart of stars;
a shepherd
trading sleep
for a chance to seek
a golden child
in swaddling clothes;
a Simeon
who has hoped for a lifetime
to find the one called
Emmanuel, God with us.
Or are you like Mary,
prayerfully waiting
for the King of Kings
to be born in you?
Well, He is here!
Sing! Sing “O, Holy Night.”
Run toward His Light!

Once the story was complete, voice artist Craig Northcutt and I recorded the text. A bonus CD of that reading accompanies each copy of the book.

As I wrote and recorded Voices of Christmas, I imagined children and families gathered together, sharing these poems, one by one, as they count down the days of Advent.

A girl can dream, can’t she?