So it’s finally here. The Star Wars sequel. *cue nerd snorts of excitement* In case you’ve been hiding under a rock, I’m referring to the Star Wars: The Force Awakens movie. It’s set to open on December 18 and the anticipation is palatable. I don’t know about you, but my nerd senses are on full alert.
For months, advertisers have been hawking Star Wars paraphernalia like never before. If you ever found yourself in need of an R2D2 pacifier or a Darth Vader egg beater, you’re in luck. Virtually nothing has escaped the long arm of Disney’s retailing machine. Even my beloved Irish Sweet Cream (precious nectar of Heaven) has been graced with a picture of a storm trooper…or something like it anyway. So now even my coffee has the power of the force.
And why all the fuss? Why, from just about every age group, do we sense such giddy expectation for a movie? Truth be told, there’s probably no single reason. Geeks love it for the sci-fi fix. Romantics enmesh themselves in the love story. Kids adore the never ending plethora of droids and bizarre creatures. (Except Jar-Jar. We can all agree he was a hideous mistake). There’s even the almost comical comfort of knowing your family isn’t the most dysfunctional one in the galaxy. If Star Wars were real, the amount of family counseling needed to navigate Luke and Anakin’s relationship would go on for years.
Gen Xers like myself have a special fondness for the Star Wars saga. As kids we watched starry-eyed as Luke and Han battled Darth Vader. Most of the boys I knew could make a light saber out of a broomstick and a flashlight. And what girl didn’t sit at the breakfast table and wonder if a couple of well-placed cinnamon buns could give her Leia’s signature “do”? The prequels of the 90’s provided a long awaited end to our burning curiosity. As young adults and parents, we lined the theaters in droves, dizzy at the prospect of seeing how Vader became, well… so Darthy. And now, our trip down memory lane will be complete as the big screen brings back our heroes for a third installment. I personally have no shame in admitting that when Han and Chui showed up in the Force Awakens trailers, I got a little teary-eyed. It was like seeing long lost friends return from an extended trip.
I don’t think I’m the only one who feels as though this movie has added quite bit of hype to Christmas this year. Now as a follower of Christ, I’m sure there is no deep, spiritual connection to the opening date for this newest movie. After all It makes sense to open a big budget, much anticipated film during the Christmas season – a time when Americans are traditionally in a good mood and spending money anyway. Students young and old are on break and ready to be entertained. The Christmas season is in itself a heightened time of festivity so if you’re a movie maker, it’s time to bring out the cash cow, right? Much of our anticipation during the Christmas season revolves around time spent with family and friends. Star Wars fans now get the added bonus of looking forward to what will surely be the best popcorn muncher of the year.
And it was these very musings that led me to the correlation I am about to make. It may seem weird – even a little irreverent to some. But, stay with me here because this may prove to be somewhat interesting. One evening not so far, far ago found me cocooned in my living room, deep in theological thought and pondering the wonder of Christmas. Ok, I was watching Elf and shoving Christmas cookies into my face, but you get the idea. The inevitable Force Awakens trailer came on during a commercial break and my thoughts danced back to 1998 when the last Star Wars trilogy was being advertised. I specifically remembered walking through a shopping mall with my husband and seeing, for the first time, a movie poster for the soon-to-be-released Episode I – The Phantom Menace. The poster featured the absolutely adorable boy who would portray the young Anakin Skywalker. The poster was created so that the cherubic little Anakin cast a long shadow in the shape of Darth Vader. From an advertising perspective, it was brilliant. The innocent boy would one day become the hated Lord Vader. How? Why? What happened!?
But instead of geeking over the clever foreshadowing (no pun intended), I teared up. I got so emotional I had to turn away. Now before you start rolling your eyes, let me just say I’ve already admitted to being an emotional mess when it comes to film. (I cried for 2 weeks after seeing Titanic and I never make it through Toy Story 3 without sobbing.) If just the site of an aging Han and his cuddle-bear sidekick was enough to get my waterworks going, my reaction should come as no surprise. It makes sense that I would lose it over a loveable child’s metaphoric transformation into an evil, cape-wearing asthmatic.
That image stayed with me. Long after the popcorn had settled and the theatre turned dark, that image stayed with me. The next two movies came and went…and that image stayed with me. My very first stint in ministry was with children because of that image. In that one picture I saw captured an inescapable realty:
Every person is born a child with a multitude of possible futures before them…
and not all of them are happy endings.
Children are our future. In their little faces we see the next generation of doctors, teachers and inventors. They are our future leaders and parents, our coaches, our athletes. Our soldiers, our farmers…our future everythings. Which means, unfortunately, some of them are also tomorrow’s thieves. Tomorrow’s drug dealers, prostitutes and rapists. The prisons of tomorrow might one day be filled with yesterday’s children. This is what brought me to tears in the mall that day in 1998.
The thought that, like the fictional little Anakin, the world is filled with children who have choices to make and futures to fulfill. The importance of providing children with loving guidance and discipline became very real to me that day. You cannot look at a child without seeing his future ahead of him. And now, brace yourselves, because here is where I bring Jesus in. This is where Christmas simultaneously breaks my heart and fills me with joy.
If, when looking at a child you must also look at his future, then when it comes to Christmas, you cannot look at the manger without seeing the cross. The sweet baby we sing about in carols and hymns, the little boy who completes the nativity scene – he is the Christ. He was born to die. He came into the world not with a multitude of possible futures, but with only one. He had only one future ahead of him – to offer Himself as payment for a debt we owe but can never pay. He was Heaven’s one answer to humanity’s eternal problem.
Isaiah 9:6 speaks of him centuries (about 700 or so) before He was born. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” It all sounds lovely and Hallmark-y until you read further. Isaiah 53:5 goes on to tell us the fate of the sweet baby in the manger:
“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”
Pierced. Crushed. Wounded.
For us. For me and for you. For my selfishness, my greed, my self-centeredness. My lies.
For my sins.
Paid for on the cross of Christ. You cannot look at the manger without seeing the cross; the cross which was born for every man, woman and child in the world. The cross born for you and for me. To quote from another famous movie, “And that’s what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown.”
Christmas is many things. It is festive and beautiful and fun and yes, even sad at times depending on your current season of life. It is busy and noisy and quiet and reflective. But Christmas is obviously, and more importantly, other things too: Christmas is Jesus.
It is Jesus, the helpless infant; the tender, sweet newborn who brought hope and inspired worship.
It is Jesus, the man who suffered on a cross and died.
But beyond those truths, Christmas is still more.
If Christmas were simply the story of a baby who was born into humble circumstances, who grew to be a man of meager means and then died a humiliating death, we would have no hope. Fortunately for us, that isn’t the end of the story.
The very first time I watched Star Wars, I was enchanted. Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Obi Wan – the whole thing wowed me. I didn’t really get the whole plot line, but I remember reading the now famous scrolling title and wondering what it meant. Remember it?
Episode IV – A New Hope
A new hope. If I were to slap a tag line on the Gospels, that’s what I would write. Because that’s the real story of Christmas.
Jesus was born.
And Jesus arose. That’s the new hope. That’s the end of the story.
This week, old characters and new will fill movie screens once again. The familiar music will play and those trusty yellow words will scroll up the screen against a backdrop of vast, dark space. Eager fans by the thousands will watch to see how the continuing saga of Star Wars plays out. Many of us are dying to know whether or not Han and Leia stayed together and what did the director chose to do with our beloved Luke? (I shudder to think of him as the villain.) And yet even that story will come to an end. The lights will come up, the theaters will close and social media will likely blow up with geek critique.
But the real action, the real questions this Christmas, will still be played out in your life and in mine. Star Wars is just a movie. A fairytale if you will. We still have to deal with realty and the very real question remains… what will you do with this Jesus?
Do you look at his manger and see his cross? Do you realize what was sacrificed for you? Do you know the new life, the new hope, offered to you because of his resurrection? I hope you do.
And with that, I wish you the very merriest of Christmases. Oh yeah … and may the Force be with you.