Losing People For The Plot
Recently, Alaina and I finished the first season of a television show. The show has been a favorite of ours since its preview. We have been consuming episodes as quickly as possible. The first couple episodes were especially riveting as the stage was set for the drama. When the opportunity came to binge we finished off the show in no time. However, both of us were left disappointed.
I am going to connect this to Advent so stick with me.
Somewhere in the middle of the season the provocative staging became the background for a messy plot that became the sole purpose of the show. Seemingly stuck in the staging, the characters themselves became more like wooden pawns than dynamic proponents. Like chess pieces, the definition for the mobility had been set and the game had been played out without any new developments. This is the tricky business of telling any story. The plot itself does need to continue moving forward (in my analogy the chess game does need to be played), but not at the expense of character development. Sometimes it is only after removing ourselves far enough from a story that we realize the lack of depth in this department.
That this occurs in literature and television is not all the surprising. People often reduce one another to means to an end. We defy that God put us in relationships with each other for the sake of relationships themselves. It makes sense that this event finds itself in art where the medium is limited — expressions of plot and people must be balanced. In many cases, characters are merely a means to an ideological end.
What strikes me as unique about the Christian Scriptures is that they affirm a character, unlike any character. They speak in definitive terms like "In the beginning God" and "In the beginning was the Word." That our God is "holy, holy, holy" means that He is everything as creat-or and we are merely creat-ed. And yet, throughout the Scriptures we see this God humble Himself to speak, eat, and walk among His creation. The Scriptures do not give us the special insights of how things will work out. They affirm God's sovereignty as He works through creation. He is neither the distant God nor a Pantheistic or Panentheistic God. The entirety of the Old Testament is littered with examples. However, I would like to turn to the Advent narratives to gawk. Even in the moment when God would become man, the Scriptures show how this God is already working in and through His creation.
Where Christ Is, There Is His Church
I have written how the church often jumps the gun on the plot of redemptive history. I have suggested we need to hold our breath as we anticipate the narrative of the incarnation. However, I believe we can also be too quick to rush to the nativity to kneel before our Savior. In due time, we must kneel. We will all kneel (Php. 2:10). Perhaps this sense of rush is why we like Mark's gospel so much. It hits the ground running. In contrast, Matthew's gospel starts us off with the slow and tedious genealogy. Dead men may tell no tales, but the roles they play in redemptive history makes them essential.
Similarly, it is often overlooked that Luke's Advent narrative includes and incorporates the conception of John the Baptist. It might seem a slow and pointless toil to see the faithlessness of Zechariah played out when his son sees so little time in Scripture. Some might presume it is there merely to fulfill prophecy. But this too ignores the extensive details into the family of the Baptist and the relationship to the incarnation. The concern for the historical accounts should give us reason to pause at their inclusion. History matters to God because His work is done in it. It is done through creation. He grabs hold of us and moves us within His work.
Though perhaps properly pre-Advent narrative, the story of Elizabeth and her child must be seen as essential to the Christmas story,
“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” - Luke 1:42-45
This text is focused on the Messiah. Yet it prefigures Christ and the church. It proclaims the miracle of Advent found in Jesus Christ and the proclaimers of this Advent — Mary, Elizabeth, and John as a type of the church. The miracle is not found in isolation — Christ is found among the church. Still, Luke's particular concern for the fringe characters does not end here. He goes on to tell how the Shepherds became proclaimers of Advent both to Mary (!) and villagers (Luke 2:16-20). In the midst of Christ's presentation, Simeon and Anna confirm that God has moved in His people to prepare them for His Son (Luke 2:22-38). God in His providence does not send His Son as a firestorm to leave us behind. The Messiah comes to be God-for-us. Advent is not an event to the exclusion of man. For in becoming man, God drew men to Christ and formed His church.
Since taking on human flesh, the eternal logos is never alone. Instead we can say, "Where there is Christ Jesus, there is the catholic Church" (Roman Catholic Catechism) or perhaps, "Where Christ is, there is his Church" (Karl Barth, The Great Promise). Advent is the time when God picks up the church and joins it to Christ. From then on nothing can separate it from the love of God (Rom. 8:35). The church is not lost in the plot of redemption.