Tonight Monty gave the Christmas message about how in a time long ago God became a man – a baby, really – in a middle-eastern village under Roman rule. We listen to this story and absorb the message of the baby and the gifts. We think about the life in an obscure town and the final destiny on the cross, with the additional bonus of the resurrection and return. We are left in an in-between world now, looking back at the resurrection and looking forward to the return. We celebrate the season and the baby, and all is well. Christmas morning awaits us, and presents, and family, and perhaps even an eggnog with real nog.
He used the familiar passage in John’s gospel about how God came into his own, who didn’t know him – but to those who recognized him, he gave the power and authority to be sons of God.
That struck me in a new way tonight. You see, I am a writer. I am so made that it is relatively easy to spin a story – I seldom have true writer’s block in that I don’t sit in front of a keyboard wondering what to say next, because there is always more to say. My problem is not that there is no story. My problem is cutting off the flow of words. And while I like it when people read my works, of course, for the most part, I just have to write.
And there is a peculiar part of every story when I write, when the characters become alive and start going off in directions I did not plan. I can’t explain this unless you’ve seen it as well when you write a story. You see, I’ll be writing about a 12-year-old boy and his grandmotherly mentor, and suddenly she’ll pull out a cameo, open it, and start talking about her baby who died in the influenza epidemic of 1918. The story spins off and the mentor suddenly takes shape sitting there in the chair on the creaky porch overlooking the bright front yard, the cicadas thrumming and the aimless bees wandering in the drowsy heat. She is bent with age, and wearing a purply-white print dress with a glass of lemonade next to her dripping in the humidity, the leaves of the white oaks surrounding the house sharp and prickly in the dry and dusty heat, and I discover she has taken over the scene. I am no longer imagining – I am writing what she is telling me. She has come alive, and lives in the story.
I have tried re-writing that scene, and she won’t budge. I’ve been able to cut down on some of the wordiness, perhaps, and she grows sharper and stronger with each edit – but she won’t change. “Don’t talk about your son gone these 45 years,” I say to her, frustrated. “Talk about the issues I want to bring up.” But she doesn’t hear me, and doesn’t even pay attention. She just goes on each time I rework the scene. Stronger, sharper, clearer, but not changing.
Of course it’s obvious that I am still the author of this scene, and yet the characters have taken over.
Now suppose I want to somehow exert more control over the scene, so I write myself into the book. I become one of the characters, and my character comes into the scene, knows what’s going on, and redirects conversations and actions. I might have to fight a bit against the strength of the characters, but I have the keyboard, and eventually I think I’ll get the action going the way I want.
This is not a new idea to me – others have talked about this very thing. But Monty’s mentioning of John’s statement about “to those who recognized him he gave the power to become children of God” finally clicked for me.
The author comes into the story not just to direct the story, but also to do something completely unimaginable – he comes to give the characters the power to step out of the book and become real, live people. The people in the book become the people of the book. They become like the author – alive and aware and living in a bright present.
That’s what the baby did when he invaded earth. He came to tell us his story and change the plot, and move it off its original path. (The original path was always death, but the cross and resurrection disrupted that plan.) But not only this – not only the experience of God within the book, but also the ability and authority (the power) to step out of the flat pages and into a life of the ages.
It’s odd how most of us only know what’s between page 1, far behind us, and page yet-to-be-determined, perhaps only a little ways before us, where our present life concludes and the book closes with a final snap.
But some of us catch glimpses of a guy acting oddly, as if the story we understand isn’t the real story at all, and if we pay attention, he invites us to step outside and beyond. If we want to. We get that invitation to meet the author and to be presented as the people of His book.