Saturday, December 31, 2016

Finding the Gospel in Kubo and the Two Strings

Note:  this illustration was used as part of a Christmas sermon on Zechariah's Song in the Gospel of Luke. To listen to the full sermon, go here


I have two sons, and when we want to hang out together, our favorite thing to do is go to the movies. We see a ridiculous amount of movies each year—it’s just how we roll. 

So a few months back, my boys desperately wanted to see a movie which I thought from the previews looked just awful. But they really wanted to see it, so we went.

It ended up being one of the four or five favorite experiences I’ve ever had at the movies. The movie was called, Kubo and the Two Strings.

(It is still a relatively new movie so I will try and stay a bit vague, so as to minimize spoilers.)

Kubo's Story

Kubo is a Japanese boy who lives outside a small village, with his mother who most of the time is mentally not-there, with occasionally moments of clarity.

So Kubo provides for their family by going down into the local village, where he tells stories and plays on his guitar. But Kubo has a magical power: as he tells a story, the origami creatures he has made come to life and act out his story. The villagers are enthralled, and Kubo has become a masterful storyteller. However, in the process he accidentally reveals himself to his grandfather—an evil spirit who (according to Kubo’s mom) stole one of Kubo’s eyes and now wants to finish the job and kill him completely.

I won’t ruin the movie, but an epic and thoroughly amazing adventure unfolds.

He learns to harness his power, and he gets help from a living monkey statue and a giant knight-in-bug armor. It’s all very weird and very fun. The movie goes on, and there is magic and there are battles and it’s super great. I highly recommend it (it is totally clean, though maybe a bit scary for younger kids.)

What I want to get to, though, is something which happens at the end.

At the end of the film, Kubo has found his magical armor, he has harnessed his magical powers, and he is facing off against the main villain.

Now, I’m sitting there in theater thinking—this is great, I love this movie...and of course, I know what is coming next.

I’ve seen this kind of movie a thousand times. So have you. And so I thought—and you would think—that you know what’s going to happen. The creature has turned into a big monster, and Kubo has released the full power of his magic…and so you expect that he is about to destroy the evil monster.

But instead something amazing happens—something which was both beautiful and wholly unexpected.

Kubo uses his magic not to destroy the bad guy, but instead … Kubo erases his memory of his past evil deeds.

And then…he tells him a story. 

He tells the bad guy a new story about himself.

Kubo tells the bad guy that he’s actually this really great person.

Kubo and the villagers tell him about how he helps the widows in the village.

That he sings to them every day.

They tell him a story of himself as a kind, generous, loving member of the community.

That he is always smiling.

(One little child in the village is quite clever, and she tells him that he gives the kids money every day.)

And you know what? The villain accepts that story.

His old identity dies, and instead he accepts a new identity, and lives it out.

His evil story is replaced:  he becomes the owner of a new story—a better story.

A New Story

When John the Baptist was at his naming ceremony in Luke 1:67-79, the people at the naming ceremony with John, they thought they knew John’s story.

In their culture, your story came from your birth details: who were your parents, what was your geneaology, and so on. John’s story was obvious. 

Like me in the movie, they thought they knew what Zechariah was going to sing—the story he would tell.

John is a Levite. So obviously he is going to be a priest.

John was born miraculously, to old parents—so obviously, his story will START by Zechariah identifying John’s lineage, his place in society, and his identity and story come from that.

But it turns out…twist ending…that isn’t what happened.

Look with me here at the next verses, starting in verse 76:

“And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness, and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

Zechariah looks at his baby boy, and the story He prophesies for him has nothing to do with the stories that their society told. 

John's story is – actually – a sub-plot in Jesus’ Grand Epic Adventure. 

John is given a story, but it isn’t SOCIETY’s story:  John’s story is actually a subplot of Jesus’ story.

Your Story's Author 

See, it turns out that we all have this deep, existential need inside, which we need to answer: What is my story?

In Zechariah’s time, the story was generally given to you by society. And it doesn’t work that way for us, but the way it works for us also isn’t Biblical.

In our society, we think that we write our own stories. We think that Zechariah should have said something like: “And you, my child, will have a wonderful life and I wish you all the blessings. You can achieve anything through God and I pray the best for you.”

In both cases, though, the story comes from our level. That is, the stories are horizontal in origin.

It either comes to us horizontally from society, or from us internally…but in either case, our story is earthly in origin.

And yet, the truth is this:  God has written a Grand Epic across the pages of history:  the story of a King, betrayed by His people, who came back and visited them—redeemed them—and saved them.

And IN THIS STORY—He has written a subplot just for you.

You have a story that the Creator of the universe wrote for you.

It has tragedy and triumph.

Times of mourning, and times of laughing.

And—if you choose to accept this story and follow it—then it also has a VERY happy ending.

An ending where NOT ONLY do you live eternally, but you are protected from the very presence of sin and suffering.

I told you earlier:  HE visited to create this. HE redeemed you. HE saved you.

So what is your part? 

(I mean…Jesus is kinda bearing the weight in this relationship, you know what I mean?)

Your part is—just like the villain in Kubo—to make a choice.

Which story will you accept?

Will you continue to write your own story? 

Will you continue to demand to control your life and your future and determine what comes your way?

Or will you accept God’s story for you instead?

Because really guys, this is what Christianity is.

Jesus – in His magic – through His resurrection – wipes clean your past. Absolutely wipes clean the story you’ve been writing for yourself. 

And then He does what Kubo did:  He writes you a new story. A subplot of his grand epic.

And the question is: do you accept it?

Being a Christian is not primarily about a belief system or a moral code (although, Christians of course do end up accepting new beliefs and living differently).

But that’s not what makes one a Christian.

Being a Christian is, primarily, about who gets permission to author the story of your life.  Is it you?  Or is it God?

When you are tempted by sin…who has permission to write your response?  

When you are hurt…who has permission to write how you grieve?

When you love...who has permission to write how you move forward?

Who gets to decide your worldview, your ideals, the things that bond you, your personality?

We all stand—like the villain—with someone else's work offering to erase your past and give us a new story.

And your only part in this is simply—to decide…who will be the author of your Story?