Stories have been a part of our human experience since we have existed. Even before we could write out words, we traced images onto the walls of caves. Soon we began to have those appointed to the task of telling stories, either through recitation or through writing. With the advent of motion pictures, we now have even more ways to enjoy our favorite stories come to life before our eyes. How many different stories have been told throughout the centuries: Odysseus and Aeneas, Arthur and Camelot, Robin Hood and his Merry Men, the modern sagas of the Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. Each of us has that story that we know from beginning to end, that story which we treasure greatly, which we return to time and time again.
What is it about that one story that attracts us to return to it even when we know the plot and could probably recite the whole thing from memory? It is something which speaks to us deep down within our being, striking a chord within our heart. It resonates with what we desire and what we wish could be. It is the proper resolution of all things: the good are rewarded, the wicked are overthrown and punished, and all live happily ever after.
This resolution is what every decent human being desires in their own life, and so we seek to affirm this by clinging on to stories where this resolution occurs. How else do you explain the movies which get the biggest box office profits? We want to see the triumph of good over evil, the victory of the hero against the villain, not the opposite. Only a deformed mind would desire that evil emerges triumphant and good be crushed. We treasure these stories because we recognize the reality that there is evil in our world, and that perhaps it might win over us unless we act.
Yet how often does it seem that this view of good versus evil is called simplistic or misguided in our own day? We are told that one man’s view of good and evil may be vastly different than another’s, and that we must not seek to impose or be intolerant of the other’s views. Some even question the labels “good” and “evil” as being out-of-touch with the modern understanding of morality. They will tell us that each value has its own place and time and that we cannot judge or dismiss these ideas from our minds.
If any of us really believed this view of the relative value of good and evil, then we would not be here tonight. For tonight we re-hear the story that has been woven into the human experience from the very beginning. We hear once the story of the real battle of good and evil which has been waged from the creation of the world, and which continues now and unto the end of time. It is the story we are all too familiar with, yet the story which we should delight in the most.
Saint Matthew hints at this story in the beginning of his Gospel, when, as we have just heard, he lists out the generations between Abraham, David, and the one whose birth we are beginning to celebrate. For those who are in the know, this list of names is like the feature of a TV series episode saying ‘Previously on...” That story which is found within those names begins in the Garden of Eden when God creates man and woman, giving them life and calling them to union with Himself. Of the fall of humanity we are all too familiar both in story form and in our own experiences. We can try to deny it, but we know that there is a condition which leads each one of us to do that which we know is not right or to avoid doing that which is good. So we see evil strike its first blow against God and against humanity, but it is not the last for either side.
Our story continues with Abraham: called in other places in the Scriptures the righteous or the faithful. He obeys God completely in his life, from his call to leave his homeland and enter Canaan - the future home of his descendants - or even to the point of nearly offering his son as a sacrifice to God. Abraham is one of the most holy people portrayed in the Old Testament, but he is not capable of finishing the story, and so it continues after him.
Next we see King David, the strong warrior who secures the nation of Israel against her enemies. David is highly praised in the Scriptures, especially in the Psalms as a righteous king and a holy warrior. Yet David was not completely righteous or faithful; the most famous incident is when he lures Bathsheba away from her husband and commits adultery with her, even killing her husband so that she could be his wife. David is thus seen as incapable of completing this story of humanity, and so it continues after him.
We then hear about those who are sent into exile after Israel is conquered many years after the death of David. This is one of the lowest points in the story up to tonight’s feast: the nation promised by God to exist forever has been conquered and banished from the Promised Land. It seems at this point that God will not be victorious, that perhaps the devil will emerge victorious in this story. But it is not the case: God will eventually free the people so that they may return to their heritage and live once more in the favor and grace of God. Yet none of these men or women listed were able to conclude our story, and so it continues after them.
Until tonight. With the child whose birth we celebrate tonight, our story begins to turn towards its climax through the introduction of the most unexpected of characters: the Author of the story itself. For the child born to us this night is no mere child. He is the Creator of the entire universe become a creature within that same universe; He is the Author of the great story who becomes one of the characters within that same story; He is the indivisible, infinite, immortal, eternal God become man so as to serve that same God. It is this child who will turn the story towards its climax through His life and through His death.
Indeed, what we celebrate tonight is the fact that God becomes personally present to us through the same flesh which we all posses so as to bring about the conclusion desired by God. Only God is capable of this, yet it is man who must do this since it was man who started the mess in the first place. So it is that God takes on our flesh and is given a part in the story which He is writing. So it is that this Jesus of Nazareth comes so as to free us from our sins.
We know the conclusion of the story: we see it in the Cross displayed so prominently in our church. We will celebrate it once more on Easter Sunday when we recall and rejoice in the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead. But can we really say that all of that is the true conclusion to this story we have reviewing? How can we say that this story is done when it seems that so little has changed from before?
It is true that the story of humanity is finished in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. Jesus’ vindication of humanity shines forth like the dawn and His victory like a burning torch, as prophesied by Isaiah in our first reading. Yet this story is not finished for each one of us. It is unfinished in that we each are given the choice of either joining in with the victorious story of Christ or of writing our own story against God and against Christ. It is unfinished in that it is still being written in our hearts and in our lives, the pen standing over the paper at each moment to write down and to trace out our path either towards union with God or abandonment of God.
We all know the classic ending of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol: Ebenezer Scrooge, having been visited by three spirits showing him Christmases past, present, and future, changes his ways for the better, exclaiming at the end “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” For the Christian, this is meant to be not the end of our individual stories, but the beginning of our own adventures. Each one of us is called to a part in the great story of humanity’s fall and rise. Each one is meant to make our own the story of Jesus Christ: born in a stable, hidden for 30 years, teaching and preaching and working miracles, praised by many, hated by some, cursed and derided, tortured, suffered, crucified, died, and resurrected, now reigning gloriously in Heaven after his ascension. If we are to honor Christmas all year, we must make our broken or discordant stories one with the story of Christ, with the story of His Church.
Let us rejoice in this day, because God does not abandon us as a failed story, but instead willing enters the story so as to restore us. Let us rejoice in that God stoops down to meet us in our flesh so that we might be able to be united to Him. But let us not forget this story or merely write it off. Let us honor the true message of Christmas through our living out the consequences of that story: conforming ourselves to Christ through His Church, the Church which is the greatest storyteller in the world. Let us continue to hear that story each Sunday and indeed each day of our lives so that we may not be entertained but moved to transform ourselves to be more like Christ our hero, Christ our victor, Christ our king. May we truly celebrate the Christmas story by reflecting it in our lives in each moment, so that we may rejoice at the conclusion of this story at the Last Day, when all the wicked shall be condemned, all the good shall be rewarded, and Christ will glorify His faithful with the gift of eternal life. Let us live out our stories so that we may be a part of the new story which will be written in joy and peace, where all will live happily ever after.