One solitary life. It was full of failure, and it ended in a premature and shameful death. There were no career accolades, family, or world acclaim. Just a life that was born into an enemy occupation, grew up in a working-class trade, lived at home, and ended with a death by capital punishment.
In a simple, yet profound video, our friends at Likable Art and Lifeteen.com have beautifully animated the famous sermon ‘One Solitary Life’ by Dr. James Allan Francis by using hundreds and hundreds of paper cutouts to tell the life story of Jesus. The events of Jesus’ life are picked out in stark detail, a reminder of all the things we can tend to forget or become so familiar with that they lose their power.
Both the sermon and the video are immensely moving, but what struck me most after watching it was my sense of anticipation and excitement. It was spine-tingling. It reminded me of a line in C.S Lewis’ Narnia novel: the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. In the story, Aslan, who is generally accepted to be a metaphor for Christ, is revealed to be a lion. This comes as a surprise to the children who are about to meet him, and one of them asks if he is safe. The reply comes as a shock as well:
“Safe?”…”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
Watching the video reminded me of all the things I had become too familiar with in Christ’s life so as to make me forget the uniqueness of it. I felt excited after the video because I remembered again why I had remained a Catholic after a period of time when I nearly walked away. I was too fascinated with Christ’s life, even if it didn’t make sense to me. It was the recognition that if a life so strange and powerful as Christ’s existed, then it must have repercussions for the whole world, and repercussions for me, too. Repercussions that might be strange or unexpected, but very, very good.
For me, both the Narnia quote and the sermon sum up the paradox of Christ. Christ’s entire life poses a question for us, one that we spend a lifetime responding to. The contrast of the obscurity and failure of His life, the reality of God-made-man, and the final triumph of His resurrection from the dead. Nothing about His life was safe, but it is in this dangerous living that His power was made possible. In our lives, there can be times when we wonder who tore up the map and why we aren’t going in the direction we had thought we were. Events and change can cut rudely through the quiet little trajectory we were happily on. But it’s in these times that God can still work. He is the Master of change and unpredictability. He works in times of both crisis and the mundane. Pope Benedict XVI put it better than I can when he said, “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction”.
If you’ve found yourself feeling “over Christmas already” or jaded and bored by Advent, or if you struggle to find meaning in the circus of pre-Christmas parties and to-do lists: this is the video for you. I invite you to watch it and allow both the peace and power of it to help you reencounter Christ, and to rediscover the originality of the paradox of His life.
“Here is a man who was born in an obscure village as the child of a peasant woman.
He grew up in another obscure village.
He worked in a carpenter shop until he was thirty and then for three years was an itinerant preacher.
He never wrote a book.
He never held an office.
He never owned a home.
He never had a family.
He never went to college.
He never put his foot inside a big city.
He never traveled two hundred miles from the place where he was born.
He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness.
He had no credentials but himself.
He had nothing to do with this world except the naked power of his divine manhood.
While still a young man the tide of popular opinion turned against him.
His friends ran away.
One of them denied him.
Another betrayed him.
He was turned over to his enemies.
He went through the mockery of a trial.
He was nailed upon the cross between two thieves.
His executioners gambled for the only piece of property he had on earth while he was
dying, and that was his coat.
When he was dead, he was taken down and laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.
Nineteen wide centuries have come and gone and today he is the center of the human race and the leader of the column of progress.
I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, and all the navies that were ever built, and all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon the earth as powerfully as has this one solitary life.”
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