It was May 4, 2012. For those of you not in “the know,” that’s the Annual Star Wars Day. But in 2012, it was the release date of the long-awaited Avengers film. The exact time doesn’t matter… But I was minding my own business, listening to music with my Captain America shirt on. An acquaintance of mine, who will remain nameless, walked up to me – I pulled out my headphones – and he said, “I can’t believe they killed Agent Coulson!”
I didn’t know it then, but my “friend” had ripped out the emotional heart of the film, and stolen the power of the film for me. He had spoiled the film.
For those of you who are worried that I will somehow blurt out the ending of The Force Awakens in a sermon called The Church Awakens, fear not! I don’t want to be that guy.
Still, it seemed awfully appropriate to tie in the power of the Star Wars saga into this year’s Christmas Eve. In a world where we watch ripped-from-the-headlines news and ripped-from-the-headlines-fiction-based-on-the-news, we could become awfully caught up in fear.
But Master Yoda says, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
And from the Bible, we have that sweet verse from the Apostle John: “perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
That’s the story of Star Wars, is it not? The ones who choose not to fear embrace the Force for good – while the ones who are full of their own fear, whether it be for security or power or … whatever – they turn to the Dark Side.
In the narrative of Star Wars, that is represented in the juxtaposition between the light and dark side. It’s the echoing in our own minds about what it means to be “in the light,” to recognize that the shadows represent the unknown – and often the fear, to see that we are often chasing that sense of ourselves where we want to be the ones wearing the white hats. We want to be good but we sometimes forget how.
That’s why we have Christmas, I think. To remind us about what this is really about. With apologies to the comedian Bill Burr, who said he didn’t need to go to church because he’d heard all the stories before, I believe we need these stories because we need reminded who we are and whose we are. We need the light to break through – we need Jesus.
Enter the Gospel – not some amalgamation in George Lucas’ brain about good versus evil, but God’s version. Even before there was Jesus, the Prophet Isaiah foretells of his coming by establishing that there are people walking in darkness – but that they have seen a great light – that there is inspiration, and freedom, and hope in the turning back of the darkness.
Isaiah writes about it but he has not yet witnessed it; he can only tell of its coming.
And then Jesus comes. Then Christmas arrives, blooming and exploding in the most unexpected of ways – the most shocking of plot twists.
The God of the universe sends his son to be born to a working class, blue collar guy and his new bride. God sent his son to be born to a woman who conceived out of wedlock. God sent himself – Jesus – to be born into the meekest of all situations, homeless, tired, poor, refugee. God sent Jesus to be God in the flesh – not dressed up as human or something cheap – but to really be with us. To understand our pain, our triumph, our struggle, and ultimately, our joy.
But as if putting Jesus in such a vulnerable position wasn’t ignoble enough, God delivered the message of Jesus’ birth to … the shepherds.
Everyone knows that it takes awhile for an animal to grow on me. I’m just not wired that way. But the people who God announced Jesus’ arrival on earth to were people who were surrounded by animals, who were left out, who were the least of society’s power structure. Guarding someone else’s livestock, these men were outside of town, in an open field, keeping watch over someone else’s property.
God sent the angels to announce the birth of Jesus to people who were literally in the dark.
I have thought quite a bit of Linus’ King James version of Luke 2:9 this year, as I reflected on San Berdinho, Paris, and places around the world. “Sore afraid” seems to describe this world of darkness that the gospel breaks into – the good news that Jesus Christ is born – and yet it describes our world, too. But fear leads to hate and hate leads to anger and anger leads to… but I digress.
Here are these shepherds. Not who you or I might draw up in the plans of the Big Picture to be the harbingers of the good news. Not who you or I would expect God to make the bearers of the light…
Have you ever noticed – Star Wars friends – how the people who carry the light, literally the lightsabers, are rarely the people that everyone expects to be powerful or worthy of praise? Have you noticed how they seem to be the people who are overlooked or counted out, how their societal power is rarely the thing that stands out for them?
It seems to me that the shepherds and the Jedi have that going for them. They are not the greatest or the smartest or the ones voted most likely to succeed, but they are the ones who recognize the Force or the Gospel or the light, and they choose to bind themselves to it. Hold that thought with me for a moment as we duck back in on the shepherds.
Who, upon hearing that God has brought good news for everyone – peace for all humankind – they drop everything and go. They leave behind their jobs, their livelihoods, their security, and they rush to the presence of God among them.
Upon seeing Jesus, they become bearers of the light, running hear and there and everywhere, telling everyone what they have seen.
Do you know what is more dangerous than someone who has very important information? Someone who isn’t going to be quiet about it! These shepherds, rather than holding the information for themselves, rather than holding it as a priceless gift to be admired or to be bartered with, chose to share it freely – with everyone.
They’re not the last.
No, tonight on Christmas Eve, I have cheated. I’ve included the story of the Magi – these wise men not kings and not three (necessarily) who followed a Star – light again! – to the home of Jesus. They sought out the person in power – Herod – who they thought might tell them where this phenomenal, galactic event had taken place – and he knew nothing because he wasn’t interested in the history of Isaiah.
These Magi find the baby Jesus – more like three-year-old Jesus – and hightail it out of there because they’re warned that Herod is up to no good. In fact, we have it historically that Herod had a generation of young Hebrew boys executed to try and prevent the coup that he thought Jesus would lead.
Herod was filled with fear that Jesus was there to take his power. So he acted out in hate and anger.
Even after Jesus had been born, even as a baby when he was nine pound, eight ounces and purely huggable, not pushing buttons in the Sermon on the Mount or clearing the temple of fake worshippers, Jesus’ light wasn’t accepted by everyone.
Sometimes, I look around the world and I wonder where the light is.
Sometimes, I wonder whether the light of Christmas is so dim that it’s merely emblematic of something rather than actually active. I know it’s true, and I know it matters, but I wonder whether we get it.
And then I am reminded – in the forceful over singing of a children’s choir about Jesus’ love for them;
In the care of an adult child for the aging parent;
In the movement of a group to embrace “the other,” the left out, or the abused;
In the lyrics that remind me that God is not dead nor does he sleep;
In the donations to clothe children or provide toys to the underprivileged;
That the truth of Christmas, the good news of Jesus Christ that God is with us, that we are not alone, and that peace is God’s intention for all humankind –
That is real. It’s here and it’s not yet.
It’s present and it’s coming.
I’m reminded that the echoes of stories of good and evil, the call to those who get “it” to battle injustice and tyranny and oppression for all people, those are just stories.
The good news is real. Christmas is real. We either choose to bear witness to the light or we don’t. There is no middle ground.
Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.
For us to get it – for this to truly be a Holy Night – we must reflect it in our lifestyle tomorrow morning, and next Monday, on Sunday mornings and Friday nights.
Rather than letting the light of Christmas fade, rather than the fleeting joy of Christmas, we must let it change us if we are to truly be bearers of the light.
Back in the Star Wars universe, I see an ebb and flow of times within the saga when the Force was strong, when Jedis stood. Unlike Star Wars or The Avengers, the ending can’t be spoiled — we know that God has already won through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
That’s not a spoiler – it’s just true.
But over the last two thousand years, people have stood for God at times and pushed God to the background at others. I passionately believe that we are called to stand – that we are to be bearers of the light – that rather than a passive spirit of fear and anxiety, we are called to be the church awakened.
The church – where two or more are gathered. One person alone is not the church, but each of us must choose whether we will make worship, and study, and fellowship, and mission, and giving what we are or whether it will be merely something we do.
The allegory can only take you so far, but it works here.
In or out?
Peace or fear?
Light or Dark?
We all must choose.
Do or do not, there is no try.