All The Nativity Story Needs is a Great Ending
I don’t know about you but I love a great story. Since having a child I watch more movies on Netflix and iTunes than on the silver screen. Whether you watch a great story on the silver screen or from the comfort of the bean bag chair in your basement, the elements that make up a great story are the same. Even if you are not a movie person, preferring great stories to be written and bound, you still know whats makes a great story.
I promise not to spoil any movies for you but if you think of the latest Star Wars movie, all of the elements of a great story are present. First, you need a compelling plot. If the heroin Rey and her droid sidekick BB-8 were merely wondering around the desert for no reason I doubt many people would purchase tickets in advance or wait in line for hours to get a good seat in a theater. Speaking of Rey and BB-8, you need relatable characters. Regardless if the story takes place in 2017 or in galaxy far far away, a great story helps the audience place themselves within the plot. More than likely you will place yourself on the side of the resistance and not on the side of the empire or first order.
A great story also provides a surprising plot twist and suspense. It is not enough to have Rey and BB-8 travel across the desert. They need to encounter the first order or some other obstacle as they make it from point A to point B. Movement without suspense does little to draw the audience in. A suspenseful story causes you to be irritated, and move with a sense of urgency when your four year old son asks to go to the bathroom in the middle of The Last Jedi.
Finally, a great story must have a great ending. This comes in one of two ways. First, an ending that sets up a sequel, leaving you wanting more, leaving you wanting to know what will happen next. The other ending leaves you satisfied. All of the story is resolved, or at least those aspects impacted by the plot, and it is nicely packaged with “The End” on the screen. Rey and BB-8 are the former, while Luke and Darth are the later. See, no spoilers.
Our Nativity story fits nicely into the great story model. And it should. This story is one of, if not the most familiar story in the Bible. Whether you grew up attending Sunday school or are a casual observer of Christianity, everyone knows the basics of this story.
We know the plot line: an unwed, pregnant, teenage virgin must travel during a census mandated by the empire. There is no room at the inn so sweet baby Jesus is born in a manger. We know the plot. Our kids know the plot.
We know the characters and can relate to them. We can relate to the pickle Joseph finds himself in. His questioning of the engagement is not unreasonable, and most of us would have understood if he decided to graciously walk away from the relationship. We, well mostly women, can relate to Mary’s predicament.
Who will believe me? What am I supposed to do now?
Perhaps you relate to the shepherds. You feel like you are on the margins of the community. Not entirely comfortable in social situations but then again no one goes out of their way to make you feel welcomed. Or, your identify with the unnamed inn keeper or the unnamed individual who directs Mary and Jospeh to the manger with the undisclosed location.
There are so many plot twists in the story it is hard to keep up.
First God is entering into the earthly realm. Let that soak in for a minute.
Next, instead of a mighty warrior ready to throw off the yoke of the occupying empire by force, God enters the world in the most vulnerable manner.
Throw in the twist of no room in the inn and we have a full-blown, suspenseful, made for Lifetime drama on our hands.
The ending, the ending could use some work. You can read the ending of the Nativity story a few ways. First, in Luke’s account we go from birth and angelic hosts to Jesus’ circumcision. Not exactly the (great) ending we were hoping for.
We can jump over to Matthew’s gospel and find the holy family fleeing as refugees when King Herod ordered the massacre of all male infants. Again, not exactly the (great) ending we were hoping for.
We almost have a great story in the Nativity. All we needed was for sweet baby Jesus to defeat the empire. Instead of fleeing to Egypt as a refugee, we needed sweet baby Jesus to raise an angelic army, wielding Luke’s lost light saber, defeating the empire, and releasing Israel from the rod of their oppressor. As Mary and Jospeh are being counted to calculate the tax to be handed down by Emperor Augustus we need sweet baby Jesus to say, “Stand back Mom and Dad. I’ve got this.”
The beginning of the story is great. As the prophet Isaiah wrote, a great light has shined into the darkness the people walked in. The divine presence of Christ begins to break the grip of darkness that Israel had been subjected to through generations of occupation and oppression. Beholding God in the form of a vulnerable baby begins what could be subversion to the violence used by the empire to maintain stability and order.
But, the ending is missing.
The great ending our Nativity story needs will not come for over 30 years. Again, the holy family will be on the move at the order of the occupying empire. Again, Mary will have to watch as her son’s life is threatened by the emperor, but instead of being able to sweep Jesus up in her arms and rush him away from the threat, Mary will be forced to watch, helplessly, as her first born is hung from a tree between two common criminals.
The great ending the Nativity story needs comes thee days later in an empty tomb. The joy experienced at the manger is re-experienced in the empty tomb when God overcomes the yoke and rod of death.
The great ending the Nativity story needed becomes the Good News proclaimed by generation upon generation. The great ending is that at the manger, on the cross, and in the empty tomb we remember not only what God did in Bethlehem while the cattle were lowing but we behold what God accomplished through Jesus, Immanuel, God with us, and the coming completion of God’s reign and the new creation that is to come.
Through the incomprehensible in-breaking of God at the manger and in the empty tomb, then and now, the Nativity story is the greatest story. It’s just not a story that ends at the Manger.
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