All the candles have been lit and burned low. Endless trips to the store have turned to endless leftovers in the fridge. The tree stands empty, the bank balance is down, and the scale reading is up. Christmas is over, and it’s back to life as usual.
The excitement and fanfare of Christ’s birth may be finished, but His story goes on. The shepherds head back into the office, the angelic lights go away, and mundane earthly life begins. The kingly visitors pack up and leave and a young family are left to deal with the aftermath of their celebration: a jealous king intent on eliminating Jesus.
When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. … When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.
Midnight warning. Abrupt departure. Terrifying flight. Hunted. Infants massacred in His place. Residence in a foreign land. Indefinite displacement. Near misses. Repeated moves. Would their lives forever be hounded by danger and difficulty? This was no way to start a marriage, and it was certainly no way to raise a child. Why hadn’t the angels just explained that it would be like this in the first place? What had happened to all those glorious prophecies about Jesus wearing the government on His shoulder? At this point, “helpless refugee” seemed a more fitting title than “Prince of Peace.”
The outcome of their stories gives us hope in the middle of our own story.
Jesus was living a carefully crafted recapitulation (recap) of His ancestor David’s story. David’s start in life had been similarly spectacular: chosen out of the lineup of brothers to be anointed as the next king, victorious over an evil giant, miraculous deliverer from countless invading forces, celebrated hope of the people. But all those glorious celebrations came to an end and David was left to deal with their aftermath: a jealous king intent on eliminating him.
Saul sent men to David’s house to watch it and to kill him in the morning. But Michal, David’s wife, warned him, “If you don’t run for your life tonight, tomorrow you’ll be killed.” So Michal let David down through a window, and he fled and escaped. …
David went to Nob, to Ahimelech the priest. …
Then the king ordered the guards at his side: “Turn and kill the priests of the LORD, because they too have sided with David. They knew he was fleeing, yet they did not tell me.” … So Doeg the Edomite turned and struck them down. That day he killed eighty-five men who wore the linen ephod. He also put to the sword Nob, the town of the priests, with its men and women, its children and infants, and its cattle, donkeys and sheep.
1 Samuel 19:11-12; 21:1; 22:17-19
Midnight warning. Abrupt flight. Unexpected provision. Hunted. Priests massacred in his place. Residence in a foreign land. Indefinite displacement. Near misses. Always on the move. Would his life forever be hounded by danger and difficulty? This was no way to establish himself as a leader, and it was certainly no way to raise a secure, prosperous nation. Why hadn’t the prophet told him all the facts in the first place? What had happened to that glorious prophecy about him being king? Was he not God’s “anointed one” (Messiah in Hebrew, Christ in Greek)? At this point, “scum of the earth” and “tramp” seemed a more fitting title.
But the story didn’t stop there, for Jesus or for David. And it doesn’t stop there for us, either. As we do narrative theology we study the stories of Scripture and start to notice trends in how they develop and how they work out. Narrative theology then invites us to lay the outline of our stories like a transparency over the contours of matching biblical stories. And to the extent that our own stories are similar to the biblical stories, we can interpret our life experiences within the same framework and according to the same patterns.
God’s eventual fulfillment of His promises to David and His ultimate exaltation of Jesus to the highest throne are the happy endings that we cling to as we continue to muck along through the mundane of our own story. To the extent that we faithfully trudge along in their footsteps, we trust that God will complete our own stories in similarly satisfying ways. And that gives us hope in the middle of the mess: the story isn’t over yet.