The moments that shape our lives are much more likely to be small and personal, rather than huge national events. The poet, Robert Bly, has discussed the idea of a defining moment – that instant when a small event changes one’s life. Now most of us generally think in terms of those large events when asked to recall a defining moment – for example: for our parents – the attack on Pearl Harbor; for many of us -the assassinations of JFK, MLK, RFK; for our children – the space shuttle Challenger disaster; the terrorists’ attacks of 9/11; and, for all of us, even the election of Barack Obama. Inherent in all of these events is the sense of narrative: “Where were you when ________?”and, of course, our answer is one that involves a story.
Why is story so significant, so powerful? There are perhaps three important reasons.
First, narratives play an important role in constituting the mind: enabling memory, structuring cognition, making meaning, and establishing identity.
Second, because we are creatures constituted by narrative, we can be called by stories, engrossed by them, moved emotionally by them, persuaded by them, and ultimately motivated to act by them.
Third, because narratives are shared, they can operate at both the individual and the collective level, constructing common desires, enlisting participation in a common drama, and scripting collective acts of meaning.
Consider this: people don’t want more information. We live in the information age. We are up to our eyeballs in information. What people really want is faith—faith in self, or in others, in something greater than themselves; certainly, in the story one tells.It is faith that moves mountains, not facts. Facts do not give birth to faith.Faith needs a story to sustain it — a meaningful story that inspires belief and renews hope that such ideas do indeed offer the promise and fulfillment and ultimately fosters belief. In short, “story” is the path to creating faith. Now a good story describes what it’s like to deal with conflict generally over the course of a long journey of discovery that ultimately results in the discovery of the truth.
Now these three aspects comprise what some call when referring to the power of story as“narrative intelligence” – that is, the tendency to understand things better when they are presented in the form of a story shaped by context, character, and history.
For someone like me, who has made much of his career examining the power of narrative and the impact of story, there are three powerful connections that emanate from any study of story. Let’s examine these in light of the accompanying scripture readings and consider the promise, the prophecy, and the power of Christmas.
The Genesis passage [Genesis 3:15] provides us the foundation of this “Christmas story” and presents before us the promise of a Savior and of salvation thousands of years before his Incarnation and establishes the first of these three powerful connections: a text-to-self connection. Here,
this story and its promise – we know the creation story and the story of Adam and Eve, but have we truly stopped to consider the promise made in the Garden of Eden? And what makes this promise so different is that is couched in a curse – look what God says to the serpent:
|Genesis 3: 15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her Offspring; He will bruise and tread your head underfoot, and you will lie in wait and bruise His heel. |
In Isaiah 40 we see connections between the Old Testament and the New Testament as Isaiah speaks not only to the children of Israel of his day who are facing captivity in Babylon, but he speaks to the generations that follow – prophesying events revealed in the Gospels and in Acts, portending the ministry of John the Baptist and the presence of the suffering and reigning Messiah. Notice Isaiah’s prophecy:
|Isaiah 40: 3 – 5 A voice of one who cries: Prepare in the wilderness the way of the Lord [clear away the obstacles]; make straight and smooth in the desert a highway for our God!Every valley shall be lifted and filled up, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the crooked and uneven shall be made straight and level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory (majesty and splendor) of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it. (Amplified Translation)|
Notice the contrasts revealed within verse 4 and compare that within the context of life before and after a reigning Messiah –
is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is defective and lacking cannot be counted compared to Luke 18: 27 – But He said, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”
So we see in Genesis the promise and in Isaiah the prophecy of Christmas, but Luke reveals to us the power of the Christmas story. As we make this transition, let’s take one more look in the Old Testament found in Micah 5:2 –
|But you, Bethlehem Ephratah, you are little to be among the clans of Judah; [yet] out of you shall One come forth for Me who is to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from of old, from eternity.|
As Luke tells us the story, we see Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem not only to obey the taxation decree but to fulfill the Old Testament prophecy – that Bethlehem would be the birthplace of the Messiah. Here we see the magnificence and the glory of this historic, life-changing event – a true defining moment!
And this moment, this story – a story of context, of character, of history – makes this announcement to the world: A Savior is born!
|Luke 2: 9 – 14 8 In the same region there were shepherds staying out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood by them, and the glory of the Lord flashed and shone all about them, and they were terribly frightened. 10But the angel said to them, Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people. 11 For to you is born this day in the town of David a Savior, Who is Christ, the Messiah, the Lord! 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find, after searching, a Baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. 13 Then suddenly there appeared with the angel an army of the troops of heaven, praising God and saying, 14 Glory to God in the highest , and on earth peace among men with whom He is well pleased. (Amplified Translation)|
In this, the Angels’ song, we find the ultimate text-to-world connection: God delivers on his promise made those many years ago in the Garden of Eden. And while in this glorious moment the complete fulfillment of the promise is yet to come with the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, and ultimately His return, the reality – the context
of the Savior’s birth and the Angels’ song are contained in the lyrics Charles Wesley wrote so many years ago: