November 30, 2008
Pastor Brian Shimer
Luke 1: 8-20 and 26-28
- Do you love a good story? I do. Especially the kind where you get involved with the characters, the plot and enter into another world as you read, and get blessed, challenged, inspired or just entertained.
I remember once when a dear woman in this congregation was describing a plot line of one of her favorite stories from a series by author Karen Kingsbury. As she told me of the twist of plot and the redemptive ending, tears came to her eyes as felt again the emotion she had felt as she had first read the account. The story had taken her into another’s life.
A couple weeks ago I had to travel to Louisville for a national meeting on behalf of the Board of Ordained Ministry in our conference. I grabbed a book off of Susanna’s bookshelf at home to take with me to read. The book I chose was one the girls had read and greatly enjoyed a while back and I try to keep up with some of what they are reading for it gives me a connection to their lives.
The book I grabbed is one that came into our lives through Mikaila Medinger and is called Inkheart written by Cornelia Funke.
The plotline is of a man who when once reading a book also called Inkheart had three characters from that story suddenly be drawn out into this life as flesh and blood people. Simultaneously his wife who had been listening to him read was drawn into the book of paper and ink disappearing from this world. The story starts nine years after this took place.
Unfortunately two of the three characters who were drawn into this world are evil, despicable characters; one of whom has a heart that is so dark as to earn the title "Inkheart!" The creative plot that unfolds with many twists, suspense and adventure was a great read as one of these three men just wants to go back into the book and escape this world and the other two bad guys seek to steal and destroy all copies of the book so that they can remain in this world and wreak havoc forever!
- As I read, the author’s wonderful descriptions of the power of written and spoken word continued to bless me.
Listen to this one passage when the father Mo is reading to this daughter, Meggie: “Mo began filling the silence with words. He lured them out of the pages as if they had only been waiting for his voice, words long and short, words sharp and soft, cooing and purring words. They danced through the room, painting stained-glass pictures, tickling the skin. Even when Meggie nodded off she could still hear them, although Mo had closed the book long ago. Words that explained the world to her, its dark side, its light side, words that built a wall to keep out bad dreams” (p. 246).
In the book characters are drawn from one world, the book’s world, into another, this world through the spoken word. The characters are drawn from one story into a greater Story.
The more I read the more I saw the whole book as a parable of the power of the Word to draw people from one story into another, and began to think of the capital “W” Word and how we are drawn from our own smaller stories into the greater STORY, God’s Story.
And it is the Word of God that draws us out and the Word of God, the Son, Jesus, who makes such a move from our own smaller world into the great expanse of God’s kingdom possible. It is the spoken Word of God, the preached Word, the shared Word that has the power to awaken the soul to something more and cause us to accept the offer of a “change of stories.”
In the book the characters were drawn from the book into this world or from this world into the book’s world, but for us it is the power of story to take us from our lives focused upon “MY” stuff, “MY” needs, “MY” desires, “MY” dreams and trapped by “MY” sins, into the broad expanse of God’s World, God’s grace-filled world, God’s story that is so much larger and brighter and more amazing than my little life. It is into this bright world of color and light and beauty that we are drawn.
- So this Advent I want us to reflect upon this greater story – into which we can enter, and which enters into us; this story upon which any decent story is based. You can find God’s good story—the story of the sacrifice of love come down to die to set others free— written into many of the stories we love to read and watch. Anyplace you find even a glimmer of love and sacrifice, of heroics and valor, of wickedness and darkness overpowered by goodness and light, you have echoes of this Greater Story.
Recently Gabrielle and I have been re-watching the Spiderman Movie trilogy. In the second movie Spiderman offers his life in order to save the lives of those on this speeding above ground metro. He has cast multiple webs on both sides of the train and strains against the force of the train with his body, popping holes in his suit in the process. He manages to stop the train and faints there in the shape of the cross. Those in the train gently grab him and lift him back onto the train over their heads still in that shape of the cross. That is not the end, but it is a brief picture of a Greater Hero who also struggled against all odds to stop not only a train and save a train full of people, but rather stopped the power of sin; He destroyed the devil’s works!
All the while I was reading Inkheart, I continued to think about how Jesus was the character from the greater story sent into our story in order that we could then enter back into His story.
And alongside with this I was struck with how much freedom God gives us to remain in our stories, God even allows us to write our own stories. Many are like the Rich Young Ruler in Scripture who came to Jesus asking how to find eternal life and when Jesus answered what it would take for him to leave his own story and enter God’s Story, the man walked away saddened. These people may not be wealthy, but have spent their time in life “writing their own stories” rather than entering into God’s greater, grace-filled story. They empty their souls of all that is truly life and write the text of their own lives through the choices they make. Sometimes they end up in my office lamenting the story they have written and now are living, and wanting to ask God for forgiveness for the way they have refused to enter his story. God is bigger than even our long rebellions and many of these folk have discovered God gracious enough to allow them even then to enter His story. The consequences for actions may not go away, but the cure has begun.
- Every year in Advent we rehearse The Story, we come back to the very beginning and listen again to this impossibly amazing story in which a magnificent person chose to leave His story and enter ours. Every year we notice that this grand entrance came into the lives of ordinary people like you and me, changing their days forever, and changing life on into eternity. For in this story we will reach that place when a manger has something inside it that was bigger than our whole world. What a story this is.
We find the story does not begin on earth but in that greater story, in the courts of God’s counsel in heaven, with an assignment given by God to the angel Gabriel, who stands constantly in God’s presence. God sent Gabriel, whose name means “God is my Strength,” to speak to a man named Daniel who was praying in Babylon in about 525 BC.
Does this give you pause?
Just this one little detail that this same angel was alive and spoke to Daniel announcing the same hope he later announced to Zechariah and to Mary in about 4 BC tells us that this greater story, God’s story is an unending one; it is eternal.
So, Gabriel has been alive forever and yet lives now 2000 years later!
As we look at this one, God’s messenger, we learn that to encounter Him is no small thing. When Daniel saw him, it was to see someone so awesome, so mighty as to cause his own strength to fail him. Listen again to his descriptions:
”As he came near the place where I was standing, I was terrified and fell prostrate…. While he was speaking to me, I was in a deep sleep, with my face to the ground. Then he touched me and raised me to my feet” (Daniel 8:17,18). After having heard the word that Gabriel brought him, Daniel wrote: “I was exhausted and lay ill for several days…I was appalled by the vision; it was beyond understanding” (8:27).
Imagine that! From the vision of this angel and from the words spoken, Daniel was ill for several days! This is no fluffy angel.
Each year because of Karen’s parents’ generosity we get to experience the Portland Singing Christmas Tree event, at one point during which an angel comes flying in to the manger scene. Whenever I see this pretty, fluffy, female angel floating into the scene, I think: “That is not what an angel looks like”. She does not make me quake with fear!
People do not meet angels calmly anyplace in the Word. When this same angel visited Zechariah, he was startled we read in Luke and “gripped with fear” so the angel said, “Do not be afraid.” When the angel met doubt and unbelief in Zechariah rather than humility and faith, the angel had the power and authority to remove Zach’s ability to speak, until the message was fulfilled! This is not a sweet, little cherub!
CS Lewis, the Cambridge scholar, in one of his Science Fiction works describes the arrival of some angels. When these angels come the main characters feel like they are “blinded, scorched and deafened” by love! He writes, “they thought it would burn their bones. They could not bear that it should continue. They could not bear that it should cease.” When another angel comes, he wrote, “before other angels a man might sink, before this he might die, but if he lived at all he would laugh. If you had caught one breath of the air that came from him, you would have felt yourself taller than before. Though you were a cripple, your walk would have become stately; though a beggar, you would have worn your rags magnanimously. Kingship and power and festal pomp and courtesy shot from him as sparks fly from an anvil. (His coming) was like a long sunlit wave, creamy-crested and arched with emerald that comes on nine feet tall, with roaring and with terror and unquenchable laughter. ..” (that hideous Strength, by CS Lewis, pp. 323 and 327, ubp)
- I love the words Lewis uses – they seem to capture the earthshaking picture of what it is to stand in the presence of an angel – and so with this angel, Gabriel, who is sent to Zechariah and then to Mary to announce good news: you are going to be pregnant.
Indeed with the announcements of the births of John and then Jesus, God was birthing a change into our story – the possibility of redemption, of freedom from sin, of hope and of life. It was the first chapter of a brand new book in God’s story – a chapter in which our names are found.
So hearing the messenger – watching how these other characters responded – how are we going to respond to the message that a story has broken into our lives to change our stories forever?
Is it possible with Zechariah & Elizabeth we can take receive God’s announcement with both silence and thankfulness? Zechariah remember spent 9 months in silence which greatly enhanced his ability to praise God. So with him perhaps we could even just take a moment during this season to just be still, to quietly realize that God has invited us too into his greater story. For Elizabeth the pregnancy took her into seclusion as she with her husband pondered this great thing God had done.
And is it possible for us with Mary to let each day be a time to receive anew this fact into our lives, as Gabriel announced to her, that with God all things are possible?
Can we allow God’s greater story to truly enter our own?
Can we follow God back into that Greater Story and live our lives in His presence with the angel Gabriel?