A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I went to university. Actually it wasn’t that long ago – although it was sufficiently long ago for our American exchange students to receive flimsy blue airmail letters from home. And they started getting excited about a new movie that was just opening back home, and which was, apparently, incredible.
And our university was far, far away from the cinema – we were in Scotland and the movie was in London. But over the holidays we got together, and sat in the dark to see something quite unlike any movie we’d seen before. I still remember the chill from the rumble of the opening sequence: a starship racing over our heads into the middle distance – and then the jaw-dropping appearance of the improbably vast spaceship pursuing it.
It had me riveted from those opening words moving up the screen: A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…
Great story-telling, and two great sequels. Lousy prequels. I hear that in the headquarters of the saga, Industrial Light and Magic, there is a model of Jar Jar Binks, encased in carbonite. If you don’t get that in-joke, you’ve led a sheltered life.
What has all this got to to with church, preaching and leadership?
Well, keep in your mind that very opening sequence, which has become the emblematic of the Star Wars saga. It’s called the ‘opening crawl’ – the words moving up the screen.
They tell you what has just happened, and why it’s important. The story we were setting back into our seats to watch for that very first time, was actually the end of a chase sequence from a previous story. That’s why it began, not gently, but at full speed, and with a chase and a capture – and a critical escape.
The very latest movie in the family, Rogue One, will tell the story of that story.
Now here’s where we pay attention.
Most of the people who come to the carol services and what-not over the next few weeks, will be as familiar with the Christmas story as I’ve just deliberately assumed you are with the basic Star Wars plot. It’s a cultural trope. And if we are not careful, we shall be as comfortingly familiar with our message. Jesus, not just a baby, grew up to be a man, cross, resurrection. Christmas has Easter wrapped inside. All wonderfully true, of course, but well inside the groove. I can wake up half way through Star Wars, hear ‘Those aren’t the droids you’re looking for,’ and know where I am in the plot, and even crack a dad-gag about it. And people can wake up half way through your Christmas sermon, hear, the word ‘crucifixion’ and drift off again.
But what if we tried the Rogue One approach? Because the birth of the baby isn’t the start of the story at all, is it? There is an opening crawl, which we call the Old Testament, and it explains why we begin the story on the move, with an international cast waiting for something dramatic to happen, an old man about to die, a young girl about to give birth. I’m not trying to a cheesy parallel with the plots here – I’m suggesting that one fresh way to approach Christmas this year would be to preach the way the gospel writers show us the back-story. Matthew and the Old Testament quotations. Luke’s scriptural echoes. John:1:1-14 – probably the best ‘opening crawl’ ever.
Because if you get it right, you will get to Easter – you must. But it will make so much more sense, and be so much more intriguing and wonderful.