The Greatest Plot Twist: A Christmas Homily for 2021

CREDIT: 20TH CENTURY FOX/ EVERETT COLLECTION

Don’t you just love a good plot twist? You’re binging on a series, reading a novel, or watching a movie and then… it happens.

Spoiler alerts here, but I think about the movie, The Usual Suspects, where a lowly and dim-witted common criminal ends up being the brilliant mastermind of it all. Or The Sixth Sense: Bruce Willis was you-know-what all along! Or how about the original Planet of the Apes? That final scene showing the top of the Statue of Liberty on the beach was incredible. Or, my favorite plot twist of all time: “No, I am your father” from The Empire Strikes Back.

In order to have a good plot twist, you need to have two different things. First, it has to come from out of the blue and be completely unexpected. The more surprising it is, the better the moment. Second, it has to make total and complete sense. You have to come across that plot twist and think: “yes, of course.” For the very best plot twists, you find yourself revisiting the entire story to that point and reevaluating all of it through the lens of that twist and realizing that, even though you never saw it coming, it is the perfect way for the story to proceed.

The plot twist: It has to be a surprise and it has to make complete sense.

So, finding out that Darth Vader was, in fact, Luke’s father might be up there as one of the single greatest plot twists of all time… but it pales in comparison to this one:

When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, 
but before they lived together, 
she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.

If you go back through that story, through all of scripture leading up to that singular moment, it would have been very easy to believe that something other than an infant being born in a stable full of animals… to a human mother… and out in the middle of nowhere… was going to mark the entrance of the Messiah! Of the Savior. The Redeemer. The Great and Powerful Son of God! Even during this past season of Advent, we had John the Baptist proclaiming that one would be coming who would baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit. So, the Christmas we all know… the one with an infant born of poor peasant folk… was not at all what anybody expected.

Plot twist.

And just like the very best plot twists, you can go back through the entire story and reevaluate it based on what did happen. And it makes incredible sense.

For example, let’s say Jesus came down in a chariot from the heavens accompanied by a vast army of angels. How then could he subsequently teach us about laying down arms, about loving our enemies, about humility? Or, let’s say Jesus was a powerful ruler who freed his oppressed Chosen People from the Romans by force, which is precisely what they thought would happen. How then could that Jesus credibly talk about sacrifice, forgiveness and mercy?

Plot twist: A helpless newborn.

Plot twist: The carpenter’s son who was rejected by his own townspeople and neighbors.

Plot twist: The all powerful Son of God who got down onto his hands and knees and washed his disciples’ feet as he was teaching them for the very last time.

Plot twist: The Savior of the World hanging upon a cross and suffering profoundly.

The greatest part of this plot twist is perhaps the subtlety of it all. That he came into this world in a way that was not so obvious and such that even those who knew him best doubted, denied, or even betrayed him. He was right there with them… though they didn’t always see it.

We can have a tendency to look for signs and miracles and then by virtue of them declare: I believe! Or we can have a tendency to use logic and philosophy and deep and heady thought to prove the existence of God, allowing us to say: I believe!

But what if the signs never come? Or we don’t recognize them when they are right there in front of us? Like his disciples. Or what if our logic and thinking point us away, not towards, faith? This can happen.

No, like those who came to Bethlehem following a star, or the poor shepherds who were the very first to experience the greatest plot twist of all time, we must actively search for what may not be so obvious. We must seek. We must push forward. We must journey. And like any path worth walking, it will have its ups and down, its twists and turns, and its good days and bad days. But we should stick with it for it’s a path surely worth walking. Because at the very end of it… at the very end… eternity awaits us.

And it all comes to us in the form of a tiny, helpless infant. Christmas is here!

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