Luke 2:1-20 is the Story we all know and love as “The Christmas Story.” Story is used throughout the Bible to convey God’s message to His creation. The power of story and words to reflect the world we live in as well as to provide the imagination and vision necessary to reshape that world is infinite. Stories enable us to understand ourselves and others; they give us the power to sway an audience, to force change, to build bridges across ethnic and gender lines. The elements that make a good story are the same elements that make a good life.
What is a story?
At it's core, story is about a "...fundamental conflict between subjective expectation and cruel reality," says Robert McKee. Story is about an imbalance and opposing forces (a problem that must be worked out, etc.). A good storyteller describes what it's like to deal with these opposing forces "...calling on the protagonist to dig deeper, work with scarce resources, make difficult decisions...and ultimately discover the truth."
What makes a good story?
It's not what you think—the beginning-to-end tale about how results meet expectations is boring and devoid of freshness or originality, Robert McKee says. Avoid this. Instead, it's better to illustrate the "struggle between expectation and reality in all its nastiness." So, what's wrong with painting a positive picture? McKee says that spin and a glossy, rosy picture actually works against you because everyone knows it can't be exactly true. What makes life interesting is "the dark side" and the struggle to overcome the negatives — struggling against the negative powers is what forces us to live more deeply, says McKee. Overcoming the negative powers is interesting, engaging, and memorable. Stories like this are more convincing.
How the power of story saved a family in crisis.
Recently, I heard a story about a man named Jason who has a thirteen-year-old daughter. He was feeling down because he and his wife had found pot hidden in their daughter's closet. She was dating a guy, too, a kid who smelled like smoke and only answered questions with single words: "Yeah," "No," "Whatever," and "Why?" And "Why?" was the answer Jason hated most. Have her home by ten, Jason would say. Why the guy would ask. Jason figured this guy was the reason his daughter was experimenting with drugs. "You thinking about grounding her?" I asked. "Not allowing her to date him?" "We've tried that. But it's gotten worse," Jason shook his head and fidgeted his fingers on the table. Then I said something that caught his attention. I said his daughter was living a terrible story. "What do you mean?" he asked. To be honest, I didn't know exactly what I meant. But I told him about the stuff I'd learned, that the elements of a story involve a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it. Even as I said this, I wasn't sure how it applied to his daughter. "Go on," my friend said. "I don't know, exactly, but she's just not living a very good story. She's caught up in a bad one," I said a lot of other things, and he kept asking questions. We must have talked for an hour or more, just about story, about how novels work and why some movies are meaningful and others simply aren't. I didn't think much of it. I just figured he was curious about movies. A couple of months later I ran into Jason and asked about his daughter. "She's better," he said to me, smiling. And when I asked why, he told me his family was living a better story. The night after we talked, Jason couldn't sleep. He thought about the story his daughter was living and the role she was playing inside that story. He realized he hadn't provided a better role for his daughter. He hadn't mapped out a story for his family. And so his daughter had chosen another story, a story in which she was wanted, even if she was only being used. In the absence of a family story, she'd chosen a story in which there was risk and adventure, rebellion and independence. "She's not a bad girl," my friend said. "She was just choosing the best story available to her." I pictured his daughter flipping through the channels of life, as it were, stopping on a story that seemed most compelling at the moment, a story that offered her something, anything, because people can't live without a story, without a role to play. "So how did you get her out of it?" I asked. And I couldn't believe what he told me next. Jason decided to stop yelling at his daughter and, instead, created a better story to invite her into. He remembered that a story involves a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it. "1 started researching some stuff on the Internet," Jason said, "and I came across an organization that builds orphanages around the world. And that sounded to me like a pretty good ambition, something maybe my family could try to do together. It sounded like a good story." "Right," I said, trying to remember the elements of story myself. "So I called this organization," Jason continued, "and it takes about twenty-five thousand dollars to build one of these orphanages. And the truth is, we don't have the money. I mean we just took out a second mortgage. But I knew if we were going to tell a good story, it would have to involve risk." "That's true," I said. "So I went home and called a family meeting," my friend continued. "I didn't tell my wife first, which it turns out was a mistake. But I told them about this village and about the orphanage and all these terrible things that could happen if these kids don't get an orphanage. Then I told them I agreed to build it." "You're kidding me." I said. "No. I'm not. And my wife sat there looking at me like I'd lost my mind. And my daughter, her eyes were as big as melons and she wasn't happy. She knew this would mean she'd have to give up her allowance and who knows what else. They just sat there in silence. And the longer they sat there, the more I wondered if I'd lost my mind too." "I actually think you might have lost your mind," I said, feeling somewhat responsible. "Well, maybe so," Jason said, looking away for a second with a smile. "But it's working out. I mean things are getting pretty good," Jason went on to explain that his wife and daughter went back to their separate rooms and neither of them talked to him. His wife was rightly upset that he hadn't mentioned anything to her. But that night while they were lying in bed, he explained the whole story thing, about how they weren't taking risks and weren't helping anybody and how their daughter was losing interest. "The next day," he said, "Annie came to me while I was doing the dishes." He collected his words. "Things had just been tense for the last year. I haven't told you everything. But my wife came to me and put her arms around me and leaned her face into the back of my neck and told me she was proud of me." "You're kidding," I said. "I'm not," my friend said. I hadn't heard Annie say anything like that in years. I told her I was sorry I didn't talk to her about it, that I just got excited. She said she forgave me but that it didn't matter. She said we had an orphanage to build, and that we were probably going to make bigger mistakes, but we would build it." My friend smiled as he remembered his wife's words. "And then Rachel came into our bedroom, maybe a few days later, and asked if we could go to Mexico. Annie and I just sort of looked at her and didn't know what to say. So then Rachel crawled between us in the bed like she did when she was little. She said she could talk about the orphanage on her web site and maybe people could help. She could post pictures. She wanted to go to Mexico to meet the kids and take pictures for her Web site." "That's incredible," I said. "You know what else, man?" Jason said. "She broke up with her boyfriend last week. She had his picture on her dresser and took it down and told me he said she was too fat. Can you believe that? What a jerk." "A jerk," I agreed. "But that's done now," Jason said, shaking his head. "No girl who plays the role of a hero dates a guy who uses her. She knows who she is. She just forgot for a little while."
The Story of Jesus the Christ is still the “Greatest Story Ever Told.” Jesus perfectly demonstrates how we are to face the dark side and be more than conquerors in our struggle against evil.
Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you," declares the LORD, "and will bring you back from captivity.
As Christians our life is to become the story God planned when He created us. This requires our yielding and surrender of all other options to find His plan for our life. You will never be bored following Jesus wholeheartedly living the story He has written for you. To many of us have settled for a lesser story (life).
Rev 12:10 Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, "Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down. 11 And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death. 12 Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell in them! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time."
It seems that giving our testimonies is becoming rare and scripture declares we overcome by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of our testimony (story). To be a person is to have a story to tell. What story is our life telling in an age of darkness and hopelessness? I pray we all display the light of the gospel of Jesus as we live out His story for our lives with exceeding great joy and peace. I pray His story permeate your life with a very Merry Christmas.