In Ephesians 3:19, as part of a pastoral prayer, Paul exhorts his beloved Ephesians to partake in a paradox: he prays that they would “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.”

What a strange commission—to know something you can’t possibly know. But if we really think about it, it’s a human paradox we deal with constantly.

As a humanities teacher, this paradox was often my biggest obstacle: How can I get my students to even remotely understand medieval monasticism in my lesson tomorrow? No matter what I do, their comprehension won’t scratch the surface of the medieval lives of the second and third sons of Europe, governed by the hours, confined to a monastery, eking out a cold, itchy, prayerful existence.

My task was to help students know what they couldn’t understand.

As a dad, this paradox is often at the forefront of my mind. How can I possibly help my 4th grader understand that the punishment I’ve just handed down—received with nothing but screams and a “You’re the worst dad ever!”—was given because of the incredible love that I have for her and my deep desire for her well-being? How can I get her to know that which surpasses her knowledge?

As a missionary kid, this paradox has followed me for decades. “What was it like growing up in Hong Kong in the ‘80s?” How do I try to help someone understand what it was like being a white American son of a church planter at a British international primary school in southeast Asia? Where do you start?

If the gulf of understanding between ourselves and others is wide, imagine the chasm between our knowledge and the mind of God. How can we possibly understand the love of Christ which, more than anything we could possibly experience or attempt to explain, surpasses all knowledge?

Mark Turner has a great quote about knowledge in his book, The Literary Mind: “Narrative imagining—story—is the fundamental instrument of thought. Rational capacities depend on it. It is our chief means of looking into the future, of predicting, of planning, and of explaining.”

Human beings, made in the image of God, are creatures of story. Made in and for time, we are bound by sequence and by narrative. It’s no coincidence that Jesus spoke in parables—in stories—so that his beloved sheep would understand.

How could my students possibly understand medieval monasticism? I told them the story of a novitiate becoming a monk, of a pilgrimage to Canterbury, and of a monastery being raided by vikings. We listened to Gregorian chant. And we spent 90 minutes in silence illuminating manuscripts.

Human beings, made in the image of God, are creatures of story.

How do my children know my love for them? They remember when I came bounding down the mountain trail, knowing they were terrified and needed help. They remember spending hours catching hermit crabs together. They remember learning the piano, little hands next to my big ones.

How do I explain my childhood? It’s through stories about eating Vegemite on toast with my neighbor, Dean, while watching cricket with his dad. Or living in a 700-square-foot flat on the 19th storey with three kids and a house guest.

Words and phrases help us understand, but it’s stories—it’s narratives—that reveal.

Christianity and Christian holidays are filled with words and phrases—trite truisms—that cheapen their powerful realities.

My challenge to you this Christmas is to battle against hollow and meaningless truism with the brutal, raw, inspiring power of the Christmas narrative.

Tell the story. It will be good for the souls of your kids. And don’t make it cute. Make it real.

C.S. Lewis, that great storyteller, said, “The child as reader is neither to be patronized nor idolized: we talk to him as man to man.” Let God’s story at Christmas speak for itself and reveal its truth to your kids.

My challenge to you this Christmas is to battle against hollow and meaningless truism with the brutal, raw, inspiring power of the Christmas narrative.

Tell the story of a first century Palestine ruled by Roman terror. Tell the story of the centuries of oppression experienced by the Jews in their own land. Tell the story of the betrayal of the tax collectors and the oppressive religiosity of the pharisees. Tell the story of a desperate Mary, a pregnant teenager, fearing being stoned to death for her alleged moral failure and running to her miraculously-pregnant aunt for refuge. Tell the story of the horrific massacre of innocent children by the jealous local ruler, obsessed with power and pleasure. Tell the story of the skies ripping open to the ear-shattering shouts of tens of thousands of angels announcing the miraculous birth to hungry, grimy, and terrified shepherds, asking “why us?” Tell the story of the agonizing desert journey of a handful of astronomers searching for a promised king. But most of all, let the central theme ring true: the God of the Universe through whom all things hold together—the logos, the word, the ultimate story—would choose to become one of us, just an ordinary one of us, to let us know the depth of his love for us and for His world and, ultimately, to come and save us.

It’s only through this story that our kids can “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge”—that they can know the unknowable. Somebody has to tell it to them in its raw beauty. This Christmas, let it be you.