We live in a time of great poverty of language. So much of our language is unimaginative, unexpressive, and uninspiring.
I love modern praise and worship music, but the old hymns are much more beautiful in terms of their language. This year is the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, which is not my favorite translation in terms of readability, but the language of the King James is beautiful and it has had an immeasurable impact on Western society.
Some language is either so powerful or beautiful that it lives on in just a phrase. In fact, if I start a few phrases you can probably complete them.
Today begins the season of Advent. As we begin our celebration of Advent we begin with a short phrase that rewrote the story of history. Matthew writes at the beginning of our Scripture passage for this morning with a ten-word phrase – This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. Those ten words herald the news that God was writing a new page in the course of human history, a new story that everything was about to change and history would be forever transformed.
The Christmas story is one that reminds us that while mankind attempts to write one story God is writing a new story. While mankind attempts to write the story to suit humanity’s purposes, God writes the story to suit his purposes. While humanity writes the story of power and domination, God writes the story of peace. While humanity writes the story of hatred and strife, God writes the story of love. While humanity writes the story of riches and wealth and gain, God writes the story of giving and sacrifice.
As you follow the Biblical story you find time and again God writing a new story. When Egypt enslaves the Hebrew people to build their buildings and become their servants, God writes a new story. God writes the story to say that people were never created to be enslaved by others and he frees the Hebrew people and fashions them into a people and into a people who would demonstrate to all people throughout history what it meant to be people who would follow God.
And the Biblical characters are time and again a demonstration of God writing a new story for individual lives. Moses, who took the life of another man, was the one chosen by God to lead the Hebrew people out of captivity in Egypt. After killing a man Moses flees Egypt but God sends Moses back. Who would ever imagine someone like Moses to be qualified for such a task? But God wrote a new story in his life.
David, the great king of Israel, enjoyed a lot of high points in his life, but he also endured some terrible lows. His power and political achievements fostered in him an arrogance so terrible that when he wanted the wife of another man he took her and then ensured her husband would be killed to cover what he had done. His family, because of his tragic example, became the textbook example of disfunction that led to the tragic death of his beloved son Absalom. And yet God wrote a new story in David’s life to the point that Scripture would say of David that he was a man after my (God’s) own heart (Acts 13:22).
Peter was a fisherman just living his life, scratching out a living, when Jesus approached him on the shores of Galilee. He was a willing, though flawed, follower. He denied Jesus, was restored, but still struggled. Paul had to confront Peter about Peter’s hesitancy to welcome Gentiles into the church. But Peter was faithful, and gave his life for his faith. God wrote a new story in his life.
Paul, still breathing threats and murder against the members of the early church, found God on the road to Damascus and God wrote a new story in his life.
And then there are the characters of the Christmas story. Joseph and Mary, a young couple chosen from obscurity to raise Jesus. That God would choose a poor, young couple would be a major new story in the course of human history. Jesus was born in the humble surroundings of a manger, not the halls of a palace, to a poor family rather than into the comfort of wealth.
Herod, who had both secured and protected his kingdom by any means necessary, was frightened to hear of the birth of Jesus. He attempted to rewrite history the same way as other tyrants – violence. But God was writing a different story. God’s story was one that said the tyrants of history will not always have their way, and in the end, a different way will prevail. We are seeing in our own time the story of tyrants being rewritten. The Arab spring has unseated tyrants and dictators and signaling a new story in nations that have long been subject to tyranny. The story of God’s kingdom, as opposed to Herod’s kingdom, was heralded long ago by the prophet Isaiah in the immortal words they will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore (Isaiah 2:4). The birth of Jesus was a sign that the days of tyrants and their kingdoms were numbered. Though they may have power for a time, God’s story is that there is a far greater power and kingdom.
The magi, who came from a land far away, tell the story to always look beyond the boundaries and limitations set by humanity. While the story of humanity has often been that of us versus them and who is in and who is out, the magi being led from far away is God’s writing of a new story to remind us that he neither sees nor sets boundaries between people. It is a writing a story to say that his kingdom is open to all people.
The shepherds, the lowly shepherds, saw God rewrite their story as a reminder that God never forgets the poor, the outcast, and the powerless. The story written by humanity is to favor the rich and the powerful, but the story written by God is that a great reversal of values is on the horizon. The first shall be last and the last shall be first, Jesus said.
God is writing a new story. There is much handwringing about the state of the world today, and there are many reasons to bring us concern, but God will write the story all the way down to the final chapter of history. The story of humanity will not be decided by the principalities and powers of this world, but by God.
And God is writing your story, and my story. When fears and worries, challenges and failures, appear to be writing the story of your life, remember that God is the author and the finisher of your faith and your life.