April 19, 2014 | EASTER VIGIL

It's Not a Fairy Tale

There's a cartoon making the rounds right now among sleep-deprived parents of young children.  The image is from the Disney version of "Sleeping Beauty."  It shows the prince with his lips about to kiss the princess.  The caption says, "If he really loves me, he'll let me sleep."

Obviously, this cartoon speaks to people whose most cherished possession is sleep.  For them, nothing demonstrates love more than giving the gift of sleep or sacrificing sleep for someone else.  And that's the loving sacrifice of the Easter Vigil.  Over the centuries, Christians have celebrated the Easter Vigil either late at night or very, very early in the morning, giving up sleep and keeping watch as Christ passes over from death into life.  As a matter of fact, some of the great spiritual heroes of the Christian past were famous for their feats of sleep deprivation.  The thirteenth-century Mary of Oignies slept as little as possible, and sometimes then only on the church floor with a log for a pillow.  Now that's love.

But the significance of the "Sleeping Beauty" cartoon to our vigil tonight is not only that the sacrifice of sleep can be an enormous gesture of love.  The cartoon also reminds us of the major discrepancies between familiar fairy tales and the lives that we find ourselves living.  In the world of fairy tales, a prince wakes you up.  In my world, a real prince lets you sleep.

The stories of our lives, and the stories of our faith, are not fairy tales. 

What a disappointment that can sometimes be.  I haven't seen the new "Noah" movie, but I've followed some of the hubbub about how faithful or unfaithful it is to the Biblical text.  One commentator complained about the film and said this: "My memories of the story of Noah are very different [from this movie].  I had this children's Bible when I was a kid and it had all these illustrations in it.  You had the two animals, walking side by side, and then you had the rainbow, and the dove comes, and then the sun comes out, and then everyone lives happily ever after."

Other commentators have pointed out that not exactly everyone lives happily ever after.  In fact, almost every trace of human and animal life is completely wiped off the face of the earth.  These stories, the stories of our faith, and the stories of our lives, are not fairy tales.

The stories and prophecies we've heard tonight are of an entirely other genre—one that is more faithful to our lives than to our wishes.  We may be tempted to read them as stories that end with living happily ever after.  But that's not what they're about. 

They're about creating something so beautiful and so beloved that you can't bear to watch anymore as the world drifts so far from its intended goodness.  They're about wanting to start over so badly, but realizing that you can never wipe the slate clean without the major consequences of grief and regret.

They're about the painful trade-offs between freedom and security.  No sooner are you liberated from one form of captivity than you find yourself at a loss for where to go next, or even unsure of where your next meal is coming from. 

They're about finding your own glorious, Spirit-led way forward, but having to pass the bodies of Egyptians on the seashore—of people who didn't make it out of the patterns of oppression and violence that govern so much of our world.

They're about sitting in exile with hopeful fantasies of a return to former glory days, or of some future of boundless prosperity.  They're even about longing to fulfill a nationalistic dream of returning from exile and reclaiming a homogenous identity, cleansed from entanglements with all kinds of other peoples and countries and idols.

These are not fairy tales.  They are stories of where we've come from.  They're also stories about where we find ourselves stuck now.  And they're also stories that God constantly invites us to move on from.

So here we sit, right in front of the chasm between fairy tales and our faith stories, and between death and life, watching for what God will do next.  And we have some clues about what that will be: If he's at all consistent, God will surely do something unexpected, something terrifying, something marvelous, something death-defying, something that will shake us to our core and then send us forward to where he is going ahead of us.  Whether we're ready or not.

I have permission to share with you all a glimpse into the faith story of two members of our community who you might not have seen for a while.  Over a month ago, Mandy and Bryson Moore traveled to China to meet and adopt their two-year-old daughter.  On the surface, their story has all the hallmarks of a fairy tale: a beautiful young orphan waits for a rescuer, for a true fairy godmother, whose unconditional love she will recognize and accept instantly. 

But in reality, it hasn't been so easy.  Instead of easily embracing her new life, this child has to walk through loss, trauma, and grief over a life that might not seem ideal to us, but that was deeply familiar to her.  And instead of realizing how deeply beloved she is, she copes with her natural mistrust by resisting or rejecting the care of others.

Mandy, her mother, has this to say: "Adoption is not a fairy tale. Fairy tales are make believe. The story God has written for us involves beauty, trauma, loss, and joy."  Mandy also says, "Although our story is not a fairy tale, it is a beautiful story that points to [God's] goodness in a very broken world. This world isn't the way my God meant for it to be originally."

This word isn't the way our God meant for it to be.  Even God wanted to start this world over, again and again.  And yet, the stories of our faith are beautiful: they point to God's "goodness in a very broken world."

God's story is not about living happily ever after.  It's just about living: living a life that you can't start over, but that is forever changed, and that is never ended.  A life that always looks forward to what extraordinary and unpredictable thing God is doing next.

As we'll see in these baptisms, God is constantly pursuing and adopting new, beloved children into his family. 

And, any minute now, we'll hear one of the most surprising chapters in God's story.  As Mandy says, "It is a beautiful story that points to [God's] goodness in a very broken world." 

The resurrection story will show us that God isn't just present in a broken world, but that he is constantly breaking open that world from the inside.  So let's watch what unfolds as we keep walking forward.  Amen.