The Power of Story
Anyone who watched Stranger Things can tell you exactly why they finished the series. It’s not because they wanted to see if Winona Ryder would showcase every single emotion in 15 seconds (okay, maybe it was a little bit of that). They finished it because they had to know the full story. Every episode ended on a cliff hanger, appealing to our senses of wonder, suspense, inquiry and our need for closure (#justiceforbarb). The Duffer brothers grabbed hold of our imaginations, drug them through the real world into the upside-down and back again.
From fairy tales to our personal lives, stories captivate and connect us, causing us to crave resolution and completeness. But are we this enthralled by the greater story—the story of Jesus? This Advent, how can we renew our sense of wonder and reorient our focus?
The Coming of Jesus Christ
We can begin by reminding ourselves of the beautiful and captivating story of Jesus. From the promise of a Serpent-crusher in the Garden of Eden to the Passover lamb. From Israel demanding a King to enduring the silence of God while waiting for a Redeemer. Shadows of Jesus are woven throughout the story of the Old Testament. Picture Old Testament Hebrews sitting around, telling their children the stories of Noah, Abraham, Moses and David. Imagine the hope they must have clung to, wondering if the next hero of the faith would be the promised Messiah. Time and again, they were disappointed, but they continued to long for the Light to come.
In the season of ever-increasing light, we wait anxiously for the candles to be lit and for houses in our neighborhood to out-do the Griswolds. Why? Because that light reminds us of the Light (John 1:9). In the darkness, these small, flickering lights should grow our anticipation for the coming Savior. Whether gazing upon a crackling fireplace, stringing paper stars or sharing Christmas cookies with a neighbor, these tangible symbols of the Light should drive us back to the story of Christmas—the story of Jesus. We can’t lose sight of the story.
The Marriage of Story and Song (The Power of Nostalgia)
Another way we remember the story, especially during Advent, is through singing. But all too easily this can become a means of mere nostalgia. Stories capture our imagination, but our souls find an even deeper connection through song. As melody and repetition lead us down the nostalgic path, songs ingrain words and stories into our memories and onto our hearts in a way like no other medium.
Many radio stations have abandoned their regularly scheduled programming to bring you Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole as they invade your ears and stir up memories of Christmases long ago. I can still remember sitting on the floor one Christmas afternoon, playing with my new toys. My mom was on the couch drinking coffee and listening to the Carpenters’ “Merry Christmas, Darling.” Every time I hear that song, I am transported back to the familiarity of that dark wood paneled living room, feeling so warm and so loved. But even more than that, music is a gift from the Lord that moves us on an emotional level.
What we repeat over and over—whether song or story—we end up knowing by heart.
There is something divinely holy about singing. Even God sings—He sings over us (Zeph. 3:17). You and I are commanded to sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to the Lord and to each other when we gather together (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). When we obey the command to sing, we are transported into the story of God in Christ. And, so, during Advent, we sing the old, familiar songs again and again. But we can’t let this familiarity callous our hearts to the piercing truth of it all.
The Repetition of Familiarity (And Its Pitfalls)
The more we repeat something, the more familiar it becomes. But it’s easy to lose the childlike wonder that captivated us to repeat it in the first place. In C.S. Lewis’ The Silver Chair, Aslan gives Jill four signs and instructs her to repeat those signs over and over again to herself in order to remember them. What we repeat over and over—whether song or story—we end up knowing by heart.
But even our hearts can grow cold in knowing. In the same way that we ignore a dentist’s warnings to floss, or miss new traffic signs on the all-too-familiar route to work, we stop paying attention to the repetition of the Advent season and stop hearing its call to us. By Christmas Eve, many of us are so sick of Christmas songs that we tune back into the top-40 hits. Even the familiar songs in our worship gatherings have the potential to just remind people of memories, instead of inviting them into remembering Jesus.
The familiarity of a song can lull us into forgetfulness instead of remembrance. Rather than thinking of how Christ, by the power of the Spirit, has reconciled us to the Father and to one another while singing “chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother, and in His name all oppression shall cease,” we spend the song wondering, “Are they gonna go for that super high note at the end?” This Advent, let’s be mindful of the fine line between mindless repetition and worshipful remembrance.
The Power of the Gospel Story
But engaging in the monotonous invitation of repetition can create a rhythm of fruitful life. Whether it’s folding laundry, buying groceries, paying bills or mowing the lawn, celebrating birthdays and holidays, or gathering together on Sundays, God created seasons to cycle us through thriving in our work and in our waiting. Advent is no different.
We must be diligent in keeping the why in the front of our hearts and minds at all times, in all seasons. The culture has bombarded us for weeks about Christmas being all about us: commercials, billboards, wish lists and presents. If left unchecked, we will all sow into the wrong story—a foreshadow of our demise.
But the Lord has given us the gospel, which is the power of God to save (Rom. 1:16). The gospel empowers us to overcome the marketing, the nostalgia and the familiarity. It supernaturally empowers us to get past the message of the world and to share in the story of Jesus. We are strengthened by the story, and we are empowered to shout a different narrative than the culture: there is freedom from the bondage of sin; there is Peace in the craziness; there is Light that overcomes the darkness.
We must be diligent in keeping the why in the front of our hearts and minds at all times, in all seasons.
It would be incredibly easy to go through this season and miss what the Lord would have for us, but we can fight for intentionality. We can see beyond the presents and the decorations. We can understand that those things are meant to be symbols that offer glimpses of the greater story.
One of the ways we can be intentional during this season is to utilize the Advent portion of our Seasons book. There are daily readings, songs to sing and activities listed that are meant to point our hearts to Jesus.
We know how the story ends, not because we binge-watched it, but because God has promised it to us—in His Son, in His Word and in His creation—and He who has promised is faithful. Let’s join in celebrating that this Advent season.