There has been a shift in interest in recent years among avid readers and movie-goers from the stories they love to the stories behind the stories they love.
From films like X-men Origins and Batman Begins which explain how iconic superheroes got their powers and what motivated them to use to, to behind-the-scene glances into the lives of authors like Jane Eyre (Becoming Jane) and Beatrix Potter (Miss Potter), to prequels to popular books like Anne of Green Gables and Red Dragon, there seems to be a deepening desire in our time to understand more fully the context from which a character or plot emerged.
Yet origin stories have been around for as long as we have – in every culture, and religion.
Our reading from Judges 13:2-24 tells us of the origins of Samson; the champion raised up by God for the people of Israel in a tumultuous time of invasion and onslaught by the Philistines.
His beginnings are similar to those of John the Baptist: his birth was foretold to a barren couple by an angel with strict instructions that he is never to drink wine (nor shave his head) for he has been set aside for a specific purpose – to begin the deliverance of Israel from her enemy.
In a similar fashion to Zechariah, his father – Manoah – is unable to believe the news until he witnesses God’s messenger ascending into heaven.
I wonder what sparked his disbelief.
An inability to recognise the divine in the form of a seemingly ordinary person?
Failure to comprehend or fully trust the power of God to bring about what was promised?
Such as sense of insignificance that he couldn’t embrace the idea of being chosen to be part of God’s special plan?
In John’s gospel, Jerusalem is buzzing with speculation:
Could Jesus be the Christ?
Is he not, perhaps, just another prophet in a long line of prophets?
The crowds begin to argue about his origins and the origins of the promised Messiah, but the temple guards who had been sent by the Pharisees and chief priests to arrest him come back empty-handed.
When questioned about their failure to carry out their instructions, the argument about his origins does not even come up, though the Jewish leaders clearly believed that nothing good or powerful could ever come out of an insignificant place like Galilee (see verse 52).
Yet, these soldiers simply say: “No one ever spoke the way this man does”
Manoah’s disbelief in the message because of the ordinary appearance of the messenger, the ruling council’s dismissal of the Christ because of where he came from, even our own preoccupation with the origin of our stories (and ourselves) may be a sign of …
… how lost we are in terms of understanding our own significance …
… how sceptical we’ve become of the motives of others …
… how deeply we’ve bought into the societal measures of another’s worth – their profession or skin colour or marital status etc. – which, in turn, influences how we measure our own worth.
As children of God, our origin story is vital, not only to who we are and are becoming, but also to how people will receive the message of love and peace that we bear – in our words and our actions.
As we enter into the meaning and the message of Christmas, spend some time today remembering the back story – not just the story of Christ’s birth, but the ever unfolding story of God’s love for us since “in the beginning ….”