Virgins, Broadway, and the Right Christmas Spirit
When I was in high school and in college, nothing tripped me up more in my faith journey than Christmas. I mean how could any rational mind that lived in the 20th Century (yes this was in the early 80’s) believe that Jesus could be “born of a virgin”? Come on, that’s just not possible! This is such a fairy tale! Why do we do this thing called Christmas? I’m to “ol d” for this!
It occurs to me now that I was reading the scriptures in a way that they were never meant to be read. I was applying my 20th century Western mind full of linear Western thinking to a story that wasn’t meant to be read like that at all! These Christmas stories weren’t meant to be read like an article in Wikipedia or Science Weekly, they were meant to be read as an introduction to a story greater than any time and place. Let me try to explain.
Recently I went to New York to visit my son, Sam, who is an architect there. Every time Cyndy and I travel to New York we try to take in at least one Broadway musical. We are both huge fans! This year we went to the Broadway Production of Mulin Rouge. My, what a story! And here’s the cool thing about it: as soon as the lights were turned out, my mind completely left its rational Western way of looking at the world and allowed myself to enter the crazy and wonder-filled story of love in La Boheme! I mean I was so wrapped up in the story that I found myself singing out loud at times, and at the end, when our wonderful Celeste (yes, in my mind she is truly “ours”) dies her tragic death, I was in tears! It was as if I were actually there!
In so many ways, this is the way our Gospels are written. They are not written with the intent of salving our 21st century sense of linear and scientific truth…how could they? They were written in the 1st century! As one of my professors in seminary once told me, “Brook, quit reading these texts like they were written by your science professor in college, and let them be what they were intended to be: stories…real stories…intended to pull you into a whole new world…a world that, if you let it, will help you see a truth that this scientific world can never reveal. Brook, have you ever been to a play, and as you have watched, have found yourself not only watching, but actually feeling like you were one of these characters on stage? Let your mind do that with the gospels, and you will be forever changed! Brook there are more ways of looking at truth that the ‘scientific method’”.
This month I’ve been studying a video/book study on Advent written by Amy-Jill Levine called “Light of the World” In one of the introductory videos she reminds us that many of the stories of the gospel weren’t written down for 20 or 30 years after they happened. Most of these stories were told in small settings all over Israel and beyond. She shared that she liked to imagine Luke’s Christmas story acted out in the living room. Family and friends would gather and then 2 or 3 or more folks would act the story out like it was theater. In fact, the birth narratives in our gospels are really theater introductions to the whole story of Jesus. Just like Puck’s introduction in Shakespear’s “Midsummer Nights Dream” these stories give us all the nuance and foreshadowing we need to hear the rest of the story. Later she invites us to enter the story and let it take us away. At one point she says, “too many times we take Advent too seriously, we need to see the laughter and joy built into these stories. These stories are fun and playful. I mean a baby is being born! What could be more fun that that!”
I think Amy-Jill Levine is exactly right! Think about it, Advent in in the “northern hemisphere” at least, is placed in the darkest days of the year. It’s almost as if God is turning the lights off for us and inviting us to put away our Western rationalistic and linear minds, and saying: “Find a comfy seat, gather your closest friends. And then let me turn off the lights and invite you into a story that will take you to places you have never been before. Let me introduce you to a person who will change the way you look at the world. And guess what? He was born in a cattle stall, to Mary, a young virgin…”
Your friend and pastor, a theater fan who has lost himself in the song, dance, and story of a man named Jesus, Brook