Read: Genesis 5:1-5 and Matthew 1:1-17.
What comes to mind when you hear me say, “Once upon a time?”
Do you think of a particular story? Perhaps it’s a fairy tale from your childhood? As a kid I can remember going to the library to hear the librarian read from Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Flea and the Professor,” which as you might know was the story chosen for the Danish Festival this year.
I always loved this story about a young professor who loses everything in the world – except a flea who lives in his vest. Having to start all over again, the professor and the flea become the best of friends who create a circus act and tour the world. On their adventures they overcome shipwrecks, cannibals, and fits of tickling. It wasn’t until I grew up that I realized this tale is more than whimsical entertainment. It also speaks to the idea of redemption and renewal, the narrative of God and Christ at work in life.
Stories can be powerful, and work in many different ways. Aside from our physical make-up, there are very few things all humans have in common. One, however, is we all have a story to tell. In the years spent writing my own, I’ve discovered that the more you put your story out into the world, the more we see how much we actually have in common. And it’s all tied to the story of our life.
A couple of weeks ago I sat in Midway Airport in Chicago. My flight had been cancelled due to weather, and despite of what my mother taught me, I began to talk with strangers. In the process I met a man from Aspen, Colorado who works with some of the same people I used to work with in advertising. Later that night I shared stories with a mother and daughter from Madison, Wisconsin only to discover that the week before we met, they had dinner with a very dear, personal friend of mine. Is that crazy or what? Now it’s doubtful that I’ll never see these people again. Yet we’ll always be connected by these new stories we share.
This week I was sent this quote, “Life is like a library in which the stories of our lives are published, but every book is different. We all have unique covers and our own stories to tell.” Mine has yet to find its way onto the New York Times best-seller list… merely because it’s not finished. However, I understand there are some interesting tales about me getting passed around the community, some have added embellishments for good measure.
Stories are told and shared in many different ways. Cave drawings were used to communicate before we had languages. Museums use photographs and found objects that tell us about our towns, historical events, and national heritage. Tattoos that once told of a sailor’s adventures now record one’s journey through cancer. And just this week, NPR reported a story about the retelling of the Battle of Gettysburg using dioramas and miniature figurines of cats dressed like soldiers.
For centuries, Christian churches have told God’s story in artfully carved marble, detailed paintings, and colorful glass all perfectly pieced together. The ceiling around the wedding chapel at our last church is adorned with 18 different stained glass portraits that illustrate the entire history of the Congregational Way and the influences we’ve had on America.
Many of you might recall the story of a minister, his son, and a baseball that mysteriously made its way through our beloved rose window. I’m not sure if anyone really knows how the ball broke through the stain glass, but I can say with much certainty that Sean and I had nothing to do with it.
We all have a story tell, about the major events of our life and the circumstances that led us here today. But if someone were to ask you to write your autobiography, where would you begin? At your birth? With your parents or family tree? Your first day of kindergarten or Jr. High? I guess it all depends on what you want people to know about you.
Matthew begins his gospel story by giving a genealogical account of those whose lives are interwoven into Jesus’. The Jews used this is an ancient story-telling technique to establish a person’s legitimacy and inheritance rights. By applying it to his gospel, Matthew asserts Jesus’ legal claim to the thrown of David, and his ancestral tie to God’s covenant promise with Abraham.
While there are numerous others omitted from this long list of tongue-twisting names, what makes the genealogy unusual is the addition of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary. Not only are they women, but three of the five are of questionable character, and two are not even Jewish. Some of the men on this list are questionable as well. Jechoniah, for example, was so evil that God cursed his family. Yet his name is included in Jesus’ story.
What does that say to you, about your life and your place in God’s kingdom? While I believe Jesus is divine by nature, these names tell me that his humanity comes from people no different than you and I. I look at this list and know that God loves us so much that he was willing to enter into our dysfunction and messiness in order to redeem us and weave us into his own heavenly narrative.
Our sins, our scars, our past all have a place among the pages in God’s book of life. Our story is God’s story. He is the almighty author. So we must never be ashamed of what we’ve been through because God will always use our story for his glory.
The Bible is filled with people like us. Blessed people, cursed people, bad and good people. Faithful or fearful, fearless or faithless God doesn’t overlook anyone. From the reluctant priests to a redeemed prostitute, the Bible give us this assurance: we are never too broken or too messed up to be a part of God’s storied love.
In knowing this, I can look at myself in the mirror and see how God is present in my life. My tattoos recall the crazy adventures of my past, while the well-disguised line across my neck speaks to my future. But with every cut, bruise, scar, grey hair and memory I have, I am reminded of my place in God’s loving grace. Each one of these life markers screams out to me, “I am important to God.” (Which, I might add, is the perfect title to anyone’s autobiography.)
Dan Allender writes, “Take seriously the story that God has given you to live. It’s time to read your own life, because your story is the one that could set us all ablaze.” We cannot be ashamed to share our story or the Good News of Jesus Christ. His story is deeply interconnected to ours. He knows what it’s like to suffer, to be betrayed, to be hurt, or to feel abandoned. He also knows what it’s like to love and be loved, to forgive and to be forgiven, to give and to receive. His life story teaches us how to live well by doing God’s will.
You can chose to write your story without him, or you can let go of the pen and allow Jesus into your life… to “right” your life using ink made from his own imperishable blood.
Through Jesus, the sins of our past will no longer define who we are, yet they still remain a part of our life to remind us of who we can become. Through Jesus, our story ends in victory. Our final chapter concludes with each one of us fulfilling our God-given destiny.
Your life may have begun “Once upon a time.” But thanks to our blessed Lord and Savior, all of our stories can end the same way: “They lived happily ever after.”