My Uncle Al was a postman for the U.S. Postal Service for 30 years. In 1973 he was kidnapped as he was walking his route. The perpetrators were two hit men for the Buonaccorso crime family who had mistaken my uncle for another mail carrier – one who had been cooperating with the FBI in a sting operation that threatened the mob family. They had Uncle Al tied up in an old warehouse and set loose two half-starved Doberman Pinschers on him because he kept telling them he didn’t know anything.
Want to know what happened next? That’s because a good story has the power to capture interest and draw a person into a narrative. If the story is well-told and professionally done, people will stay interested until the very end.
None of the above really happened. That’s right – I made it up. Including the headline. It’s called fiction. But it really wouldn’t have mattered, would it? If it had been a real sequence of events, I’m assuming most people reading this column would still have wanted to know the outcome.
Hollywood has understood the power of story for more than 100 years. Motion pictures make millions and millions of dollars from people who love to see and hear a good yarn.
Books preceded Hollywood, of course, and a well-told tale enthralled the ancient Greeks, too. Even video games have gotten into the act. The wildly popular science fiction series Halo combined state-of-the-art graphics with a storyline that kept gamers coming back for more.
When it comes to the power of stories, however, God beat them all to it. The story of God creating the heavens and the earth is not just information that God wanted us to have. It answers a deep longing in all of us – a desire to know where we’ve come from and why we’re here.
In other words, we want to know our own story, and God understood that we would be thirsty for the details of that tale. I believe this is why the Old Testament is filled with stories. All of it could have simply been summarized in order to let us know the bare facts. The telling of these stories, however, compels us to look deeper and makes the lessons learned so much more powerful.
The Lord Jesus, of course, was Himself a teller of powerful tales. In the parables we are drawn into stories that still enthrall us and convict us. In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, for example, we watch – in our mind’s eye, that is – as an innocent traveler is waylaid by thieves that rob him and beat him and leave him for dead. Will he survive? Didn’t anyone help him? You mean the religious people ignored him? Why did they do that? Oh, someone finally did help him! But it was a Samaritan? Someone from that despised race of religious half-breeds helped that poor soul? What does this all have to do with loving my neighbor?
The Christmas Story is like that too. It is captivating! John 3:16 gives us the familiar truth as a propositional statement: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
He gave His Son. Great! But what did that look like? The Christmas Story opens up for us a part of that propositional truth with gripping narration and dialogue: An angel appears. The love between a man and a woman and their resulting courtship are almost destroyed by an act of God – but then He intervenes. Scandal results, but the man of character stays by his beloved, even when he’s confused and heartbroken. There’s a brutal and dictatorial government that orders around a subjugated people. A desperate pregnancy and difficult journey lands a young couple in a stable. Lowly working people out in a field. More angels. Traveling astrologers. A vicious king slaughters children to maintain his precarious hold on power.
I think the startling nature of the story is part of the reason that Christmas still has such a grip on much of the world. The elements of that story make it a powerful vehicle for the gospel.
Of course, the story doesn’t end with the Savior’s birth. There is so much more to understand, so much more to see with the eyes of our heart! A common man steps forward from a dusty village to help save, heal, and deliver the afflicted. But soon he encounters powerful leaders who seek his demise. Demons who howl from the spiritual wasteland try to hold onto the hapless victims in their hellish grip. Forces of this world – and outside it ¬– marshal their minions to destroy the hero. You know how the story ends.
Or do you? Maybe there are yet things to see with your heart.
There’s only one way to find out.