An omnipresent, omnipotent source of strength with us, always, may sound familiar to Christians—but should it?
O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the Expected of the nations and their Savior: Come and save us, O Lord, our God.
In his account of Jesus’ birth, Matthew finds the name “Emmanuel” in Isaiah’s prophecy and applies it to Jesus as testimony to the Messiah’s miraculous conception and divine origin: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,’ which means, ‘God is with us’” (1.23, NRSV).
When he concludes his Gospel, Matthew relates, not Jesus’ ascension to heaven, but his promise to his disciples: “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (28.20, NRSV). For Matthew, Jesus is, from beginning to end, God with us.
In Star Wars, Ben Kenobi promises Luke Skywalker that the Force will be with Luke always. When Luke destroys the Death Star, we see Ben was right.
It’s a fantastic conclusion to this space-age fairy tale, a happy—an ecstatic—ending to the story.
But is this particular Force story a parable of Emmanuel?
As awesome as the original Star Wars’ ending is (and it is awesome), it shows Luke using the Force to accomplish a violent act of destruction.
I know, I know: the bad guys get blown up. The Rebellion’s cause is righteous. I grant it all. And, again—it’s a great story.
But stories matter, and stories shape us—subtly or overtly, for better and for worse. When we cheer as Luke switches off his targeting computer and still manages to bullseye the Death Star’s tiny exhaust port with his proton torpedoes, aren’t we cheering for the perpetuation of violence?
The Rebellion blows up not one but two Death Stars from Episodes IV through VI—yet the Galaxy Far, Far Away is still being wracked by violence thirty years later in Episode VII.
Do I think Christians should oppose Star Wars on moral grounds? Don’t be a laser-brained nerf-herder! Of course not! I’m simply suggesting that any equations of the Force with God break down at this particular, crucial point.
Because, unlike the Force, God is not with us always so we can wage war or wreak violence, no matter how justified we may think we are. God is with us always so we can feed those who are hungry, and heal those who are hurting, and love those who are our enemies.
Last Sunday, the choir at my church sang an anthem by Dan Forrest, a setting of words by the African-American theologian and civil rights leader Howard Thurman:
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music from the heart.
That’s why God is, in Jesus Christ, Emmanuel.
The God who is now and will be with us.
How have you experienced Emmanuel this Advent season? How will you trust him to help you do the work of Christmas in the year ahead?
Antiphon text from The United Methodist Hymnal (1989). Read this introduction to Advent antiphons from last year’s “Advent Antiphons in a Sci-Fi Key” series, and read last year’s sci-fi take on today’s antiphon.