It is the season for prequels and sequels. Mary Poppins is the big sequel this year. It’s the first year since 2012 that there hasn’t been a hobbit or a stormtrooper on the big screen. Fans will have to wait until next Christmas for Star Wars: Episode IX.
I watched the first Star Wars—later retitled as Episode IV: A New Hope—when it came out in 1977. I might not have seen it at all had our dorm’s resident adviser not insisted I go. He said, “Looper, you’ve got to see this movie. There’s a guy in it that looks exactly like you. Exactly.”
“Really?” I asked.
“You’ll know him when you see him. His name is Chewy.”
The movie was fun and my friends and I saw the resemblance with my doppelganger, but I didn’t realize at the time that the movie fit into a larger narrative. It had a backstory—a prequel—and would have a fore-story—a sequel.
Christmas is like that. It is intriguing and satisfying: the tale of an unwed mother and an ostracized family, an angelic messenger, and noble shepherds. We can enjoy it without knowing the rest of the story—or even that there is a rest of the story. We can enjoy it, but we won’t grasp its importance until we understand how Christmas fits into the larger narrative.
Christmas has a prequel and a sequel, and it only makes sense within the context of the larger story of what God is doing in the world. What makes this story different from others is that we are not merely viewers; we are participants. The story is interactive: We have a role and the story adapts itself to how we play it.
The origin story of Christmas
What is the prequel to the Christmas story? To relate it in any detail would take quite a while—and readers can find it in the Old Testament—but here is a summary. The backstory is that a super-intelligence created carbon-based, physical-spiritual hybrid beings and placed them on a planet—our planet, as it turns out. The Creator designed these beings to be a race of godlike and loving protectors and rulers of creation.
Eugene Peterson paraphrased this part of the prequel this way: “God spoke: ‘Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature. So they can be responsible for the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the cattle, and, yes, Earth itself, and every animal that moves on the face of Earth.’ God created human beings; he created them godlike, reflecting God’s nature. He created them male and female. God blessed them. ‘Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge! Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air, for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth.’”
Unlike other creatures he designed, the Creator engineered humans with a high degree of autonomy: They can make choices, formulate plans, and carry them out, as they see fit. This autonomy was a key part of the design. Humans were the glory of creation.
But as the story progresses, the nascent humans are co-opted by a dark power and drawn away from their Creator with disastrous results. The spiritual part of humans, who were designed as spiritual-physical hybrids, undergoes catastrophic failure. Without the spiritual component, humans become like other animals, only more intelligent. Chaos ensues, unleashed by injustice, greed, and hatred.
The Creator, though, does not give up hope for his human creatures. He communicates with those capable of interacting with him. There is no undoing the damage done by human rebellion, no going back, but the Creator plans to carry humanity forward. He immediately sets in motion a plan to right what has gone wrong and restore humanity’s spiritual life. He begins shaping a millennia-long lineage chain among his human creatures.
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SOURCE: Christianity Today, Shayne Looper