The best stories are always retold. We tell them because they tell us something about ourselves and we retell them so we will never forget. They contain truths worth remembering.
As many of us prepare to once again tell the greatest story ever known, it’s interesting to note that two secular Christmas classics are experiencing a retelling of their own. An operatic version of 1946’s It’s a Wonderful Life is now being performed at the Houston Grand Opera courtesy of librettist Gene Scheer, who refers to the original James Stewart film as “almost secular scripture.” Similarly, Mike Fitelson and Jennifer Weber have reimagined The Nutcracker through the modern form of hip-hop. While retaining Tchaikovsky’s original score, the co-creators have adapted the storyline and choreography to present the traditional tale to a new generation of observers. Fitelson describesThe Hip Hop Nutcracker this way: “It speaks to a contemporary, urban audience that is looking for something that resembles them.”
Stories that emerge as “classics” do so because their universality rings true for so many of us. They touch the edges of our own stories and collide with our shared experiences, allowing them to speak to a multitude of generations and cultures. In this season of Advent, these modern arrangements of well-known classics mirror the challenge faced by the Church as it engages in the retelling of a timeless story. As cultural language and paradigms shift, the Church has struggled with its desire to remain relevant to shifting opinions and values. Perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than in our attempts to tell the Christmas story afresh, year after year, for millennia.
The Incarnation needs no help in producing awe.
Admittedly, the word “relevance” in Christian circles has been the cause of much eye-rolling in recent years, further dividing the Christian community through endless debates regarding music, church architecture, clothing, and the use of technology. And yet, Os Guinness reminds us that “relevance is a prerequisite for communication. Without it, there is no communication, only a one-sided sending of messages addressed to no one, nowhere.” Exegeting the culture is an essential task of the Church in every generation, and part of that task is the ability to speak a common language.
Unfortunately, this desire to be effective communicators has sometimes come at a cost. Out of fear of losing the relevance of our voice, we have often surrendered the one thing we have had to give: a message of truth. Simone Weil once said, “To be always relevant, you have to say things which are eternal.” Herein lies courage for a church grappling with the fabricated binary of choosing between relevance and truth. The miracle of the Incarnation forever remains relevant precisely because it is eternal. Wherever and however the story is told, the good news of mankind being rescued by a God who comes to dwell among us never ceases to be compelling.
While the theater may need to change the score to introduce a work to a new generation, the Church must only remain faithful. The Incarnation needs no help in producing awe, it simply needs to be told by a Church that has been utterly changed by its truth. Our testimony that “I was blind but now I see!” is the most relevant story we could ever tell.