“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away …”
Written in blue against the blackness of space, these words pop up at the beginning of every Star Wars movie, signifying that we are about to see and hear a story that transcends time and space.
They first appeared in 1977, when the original Star Wars film hit the screen, followed by The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Then in 1999, three prequels were launched and became a series that most Star Wars fans are fine forgetting. But now—after a long, long time—the first of three sequels is set to be released: The Force Awakens. It promises to be not just thee monster film of the Christmas season, but of the decade.
You probably know, the Star Wars franchise has set within it the overarching blanket called “the Force”, which is a power defined by one of main characters, Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi, as “an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.” The Force has a light side and a dark side, and can be used for good or for evil.
In the three prequels we were introduced to Anakin Skywalker— a generous, loyal, compassionate little boy, who was so powerful in the Force that many thought he was “The Chosen One” of ancient prophecy of peace for the galaxy. Anakin used the Force to do great good as he grew up, fighting for peace and justice while protecting the innocent and opposing the wicked. He always saw himself as the Good Guy, but Anakin eventually lost his way.
Over time, he became obsessed with his own passions and fears which ended up taking over what made him truly human— his empathy and concern for others. Anakin stopped caring about individuals. He thought of himself as the wisest, the strongest and the purest; and, finally, he allowed his own ambitions to justify truly terrible actions where he eventually became the evil Darth Vader. Consequently, he wasn’t good at all. He’s selfishness and self-serving ways caused him to turn away from the Light Side of the Force, and become fixed on relaying solely on himself to get what he wanted. This led him to the Dark Side.
Now connecting Star Wars to the Gospels is not an original thought—it’s actually a decades old association. So if John the Baptist were hearing about all that Darth Vader was, John would say, I think, that Anakin Skywalker was unable to bear good fruit, and that he should be cut down and thrown into the fire—which is exactly what happens to him.
I think John would say such because in our text, he challenges the people to be trees that bear good fruit. He wants people to avoid the fate of those who turn away from light toward dimness. He wants people to rely not on themselves, but on a force that calls us toward goodness. John would want the people to avoid the fate of Darth Vader, who fell from grace because he forgot that goodness is expressed only when we seek to give, share, serve, and live with compassion and love.
The Force Awakens is set 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi, where the evil Imperial Empire is defeated. In a trailer/preview for this new film, Luke Skywalker says, “The Force is strong in my family. My father has it. I have it. My sister has it. You have that power, too.”
Today, on this Second Sunday of Advent, Luke Skywalker John the Baptist help us learn how we can use this power to turn toward the light, and away from dimness.
When John the Baptist preaches to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him in the River Jordan, where he shouts, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” he is speaking of God’s force—God’s power of goodness coming into the world.
He tells the people they are as poisonous snakes, quickly slithering away to escape the danger of a fire. The only way for them to avoid condemnation is to change their behavior and “bear fruits worthy of repentance.” John does this because he wants them to focus on doing good, instead of evil.
Such a message fits the The Force Awakens because it reminds us that the greatest evil is not the evil that attacks us from outside, rather it’s the evil that comes from within. Any one of us—even the best of us—can give in to fear, anger and hatred if we’re not vigilant. Those are powerful emotions that can blur our senses and cause us to lose sight of what true goodness is.
The crowds who gather by the River Jordan find their security in having Abraham as their ancestor, but John reminds them that God can raise up children to Abraham out of the abundant stones of the desert floor—meaning, goodness doesn’t come from being a branch on Abraham’s family tree. Rather, goodness comes from doing good.
In response to his message, the crowds around John want to avoid this fate, so they ask, “What then should we do?” Such a question is as important today as it was in the first century. John says that “whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Tax collectors should collect no more than the proper amount, and soldiers should resist the temptation to extort money from people. Keep your empathy alive, recommends John. Behave in ways that are fair, just and focused on caring about needy individuals. Being good comes from doing good, not just thinking of yourself as the Good Guy.
When God’s force awakens in us, we’re challenged to channel it into concrete actions of justice, care and compassion. But at the same time, we cannot trust ourselves to remain in the light of God at all times. Each of us is a sinful, fallible human being, as susceptible to sin as was Anakin Skywalker on the path to becoming Darth Vader.
Each of us needs a powerful and godly leader to keep us on the right track, to save us when we stray. And for us, that leader is called the Messiah. John knows that he cannot play this role himself, so he points the people toward Jesus, knowing that Jesus is the Messiah. We cannot consistently bear good fruit with human effort alone, but we require a power, a Force if you will, that is greater than ourselves.
Luke Skywalker realizes this when, in an earlier Star Wars film, he suffers a monumental shock to his system— he discovers that Darth Vader is his father. He sees that he is cut from the same cloth as his father, and he struggles with how good and evil can exist in the very same family. This is why he says in the new film, “The Force is strong in my family. My father has it. I have it. My sister has it.” All of this leads to Luke being counseled by his mentors that the only way to defeat Darth Vader is to confront and destroy him. But what does Luke do?
Instead of relying on violence to defeat violence, Luke reacts with compassion for Vader— he responds with love. Not an abstract or ceremonial love, but a concrete, self-sacrificial love for the human being that Darth Vader is, even with all his faults. It’s at this point in the Star Wars series where Luke Skywalker becomes the Christ-like figure and the good of the Force becomes a true lifesaving and life giving power.
Like Jesus, Luke cares more about real people than he does about abstract ideals. Like Jesus, Luke shows sacrificial love for his friends, his sister and especially his father, Darth Vader. Like Jesus, Luke’s readiness to die for them is the key to the defeat of evil.
There is much evil in our world—I could preach and pray about new acts of evil each week. All of it can be, and is, a monumental shock to our system. Which is why God’s force comes into human life, and challenges us to bear fruit worthy of repentance.
God’s force offers concrete examples of what it means to act with compassion and justice. It presents a Messiah who will baptize with the Holy Spirit, offering us cleansing and inspiration so that we can behave with sacrificial love and defeat the evil of our world.
Each of us is challenged to allow God’s force to awaken in us, and to receive the help of the Messiah so that we will be led to bearing good fruit and defeating evil.
With the aid of God’s force, we can walk in the light and…Defeat the evil of shivering in the cold of winter by providing coats to those who need them. We can defeat the evil of empty refrigerators by feeding the hungry. We can defeat the evil of unethical businesses by behave ethically in our businesses, charging no more than what is right and fair.
Doing something good—anything—even one penny toward our In-Gathering Outreach project—is infinitely better, infinitely more, than nothing. For doing nothing is evil itself.
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” opens in theaters on December 18th, and it will be thee blockbuster movie of the decade around the world. And when the biggest box office draw is a Star Wars movie, with its message of good over evil, it will mean that the world is experiencing something uplifting and hopeful, together. It will draw people together, and remind us all that we have a great deal in common despite our outside differences.
God’s own force is also awakening—and it’s awakening today and in the weeks to come. But this force is not seen in events that happened a long, long time ago. Rather it is at work today— in us if we allow for such.
This force is not trapped in a galaxy far, far away. Rather it is transforming the world we live in right here and now, making us more caring and compassionate, selfless and sacrificial if we will allow for such. God’s force awakens most visibly in Jesus, the Messiah. The force is strong in him, in his father and in all of us who follow him in faith and obedience.
So may we remember, the words of Luke Skywalker who says, “You have that power, too.” You, me…we all have this power, this Force that is God’s love and compassion. How will we use it? Amen.