25 Dec A Cliffhanger and a Plot Twist
Have you ever watched a movie with a cliffhanger ending? It looks like the hero or the heroine has exhausted every option, but it simply couldn’t end like this. What new trick will the protagonist pull out of their sleeve? You have to watch the sequel to find out!
The Old Testament is a lot like this. Its many plot threads all end without resolution, so you’re left with an electric sense of anticipation. What’s going to happen next? You have to read the New Testament to find out!
The Cliffhanger of the Old Testament
At the start of the Old Testament, God creates the world. He designs it to flourish through the trusting and loving obedience of His image-bearers, humankind. But the first man and woman are deceived by a shadowy enemy and rebel against God’s command. As a result, every relationship they have—with God, with one another, with their own selves, and even with creation—is broken.
But God doesn’t give up on His plan. He chooses Abraham’s family, the people of Israel, to carry His purposes forward. And He promises that through them, He’s going to bless all the nations of the world. But the people of Israel end up failing Him at every turn. Rather than transforming the nations, they allow themselves to be conformed to the nations. The Israelites reap what they had sown; they’re conquered and scattered.
This is the Old Testament cliffhanger. How will God fulfill His promises to the Israelites? How will He rescue humankind and restore creation?
When the New Testament begins, it’s been four centuries since the last Israelite prophet brought a message from God. Some of the people of Israel believe that a holy war is going to reestablish a pocket of God’s healing rule on earth. Others think that observing pious traditions will mark them out as God’s special people and bring His reign. Still others retreat into self-secluded religious communities or simply cease to care, content with their privileged positions within the broken status quo.
The Plot Twist of the New Testament
Enter Jesus, confounding every sequel speculation!
You see, in God’s plan, the cliffhanger is followed by a plot twist: to rescue humankind and restore creation, God Himself becomes a human being! A human baby!
Jesus is conceived by the Holy Spirit and born to a teenage virgin mother, Mary. Very few people believe her story, that she’s pregnant with God’s child. Joseph, her fiancé, doesn’t at first, and is just about to break off his engagement with her, when an angel appears to him and confirms her account. So, Joseph chooses to face the inevitable gossip and shame, together with his fiancée.
Traveling to Bethlehem to register for a census, the young couple can’t find any place to stay. Maybe there really is a shortage of accommodations with all of the census-travelers. Or maybe nobody wants to give space to an unwedded couple and their soon to be born, apparently illegitimate child. In the end, Mary has to give birth to her baby in a shelter for livestock. Jesus has a feeding trough for a cradle and the only people to welcome His birth are poor shepherds and pagan astrologers.
Why this plot twist? Why on earth would God choose to become a human being? Many answers to this question have no doubt been given over the past two thousand years, but these are the two answers that come to my mind.
First, God has to become human because He’s committed to work in and through humankind. He’s not about to give up on His image-bearers or on their world; by hook or by crook, humansare going to be the representatives of His goodness and greatness on a renewed earth! But a human had messed everything up and so a human had to be the one to fix it up again. A human had to bear the responsibility for the wrongs humanity had committed and a human had to be the origin for a new humanity. You see, it may have been a human who was fooled by the enemy, but it would also be a human—Jesus!—who crushed the enemy.
And here’s the second answer: our God is Immanuel and it’s in His very nature to be with us! Though He’s Lord, He doesn’t lord it over His creation. He never moves His purposes in the world forward through sheer coercion. Instead, He enters into the experience of His creation, so that His creation can enter into the experience of Him. He enters into the domain of death, so He can invite us into the domain of life. That’s why He chose the way that He did to come into the world. No other god can sympathize with our suffering the way Jesus can, because no other god has chosen to experience humiliation on the level of the first Christmas.
How the Christmas Story Can Give Us Hope
I think that 2020 has felt like the setup to the worst kind of cliffhanger for many of us. Yes, we each want to choose thanksgiving in the midst of our trials, but God doesn’t call us to ignore the pain we feel. Many of us have lost loved ones in this COVID-19 pandemic. Others of us have lost our jobs. In the face of so many uncertainties, few of us haven’t struggled with fear or anxiety. And I haven’t even mentioned the regular, day-to-day struggles we all face, even in the most uneventful of times, struggling against our own sin-natures, the broken systems of the world, and the enemy’s spiritual attacks.
So, where is God in the midst of all this? The Christmas plot twist tells us that He’s right there in the middle of it all! None of us knows what will happen in 2021, or even in the one week left of 2020. But He’s already shown us the remarkable lengths He’s willing to go to—God Almighty was born in a stable and laid in a manger, for crying out loud! So, we see that He’s not afraid to enter into our experiences. When we face trials, we have a Savior who faces them with us; when we grieve losses, we have a Savior who grieves them with us.
And we’re not just comforting ourselves with pretty ideas—you see, the Christmas plot twist was a historical plot twist! God really did become a man. Jesus really did die and rise again. And this means that God has set in motion His ultimate rescue and renewal project for the world. The resurrected but still flesh-and-blood Jesus ascended to heaven and sent His Spirit. This is so that we can partner with Him in creating pockets of the new creation right here in the midst of the broken and crumbling old creation we inhabit. He’s reconciling every relationship we have—our relationships with God, with one another, with our own selves, and with the world. And even when we face difficulties we don’t know how to overcome, we can still hold on to this hope: the work Jesus began in the flesh here on the earth, He will complete when He comes back in the flesh here on the earth!
Two thousand years ago, God surprised the whole world with His utter faithfulness manifested in the strangest of ways. So as we enter into our New Year, may we all be encouraged by the Christmas plot twist! God has become one of us. And because He has become one of us, we can face the next year with Him!
Aogu Fujihashi (YWAM Tokyo Staff)