What Do You Hear and See?

"It's real. The Force, the Jedi... all of it. It's real." - Han Solo, The Force Awakens

As you are reading this, the odds are pretty good that I am sitting in a cinema, preparing to watch the new Star Wars film, The Rise of Skywalker.  Unless it is a Sunday morning or Christmas Eve, of course. I feel sorry for the congregation I serve in the immediate days after a new Star Wars film is released! I have been a Star Wars fan since I was six years old, and this year's installment is the final episode in a series that spans 42 years. Of course, each of the recent films has made over $1 billion, so there is a good chance Disney will keep things going!

The newest revival in the Star Wars series came in 2015. It was the first movie featuring my childhood heroes since 1983. Han Solo, my all-time favorite movie character, dismissed the Star Wars mythology as a bunch of "hokey tricks and nonsense" in 1977, but 2015's Han Solo, much older and wiser, saw things differently. Explaining the truth of The Force to a new generation, he says, "It's true. I used to think it was all 'mumbo jumbo,' but it's real. The Force, the Jedi, all of it. It's real." I can't help but think many of us reading this article today, a few days before Christmas, may dismiss the story of Jesus' coming into our lives as "mumbo jumbo." Until it becomes real for us. Then everything changes.

John the Baptist was a prophet who longed for the coming of the Messiah. He baptized Jesus, and that moment was full of hope for John. But it was just the beginning of Jesus' ministry. He didn't know if Jesus was the "real deal" or not; the truth would be revealed in what Jesus did. John remembered the prophecy of Isaiah:
Strengthen the weak hands,
   and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
   ‘Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
   He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
   He will come and save you.’

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
   and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
   and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
   and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
   and the thirsty ground springs of water;
the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,
   the grass shall become reeds and rushes. - Isaiah 35:3-7
Now, John finds himself in prison, arrested by King Herod, who is consumed with hatred and jealousy. He sends word to Jesus: "Are you the real deal? Is this really the time God has sent the Messiah to us? Or are you just more of the same mumbo jumbo?" Jesus replies back to John by way of what others are seeing and hearing:
"Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.'" - Matthew 11:4-5

"Are you for real?" John asks from his prison cell. "What do you think?" Jesus responds, pointing to changed lives and hearts.

Jesus is real. All of it. The baby, the manger, the hope, the joy. It's all real. The good news of Christmas becomes real for us when we see lives changed for the better. Even when there is still suffering in the world, the truth of Christmas is made real in the hope for better days, when the hungry are fed, the homeless are sheltered, the hopeless are remembered, the grieving are comforted, the lost are found. Jesus is born in the heart of every person who does not give up on the despair of each day. Jesus is made real in the life of every person who looks at the world and says, "This can be better. I can make this better."

What are you seeing and hearing this December? Is Christmas for real? Or is it just a bunch of mumbo jumbo?

Forty two years: that's how long this Star Wars saga has been at work in my life. Regardless of whether the new movie is any good, an era is coming to an end. Probably. I expect to be a complete mess! But beyond all of that, the Christmas story has been renewed every year. It is never ending, but also constantly new.

May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace in believing through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.