Advent storytelling - The King In The Wilderness

Well, this year’s Advent Storytelling sessions were swell! And hopefully not just because of the hot chocolate. The idea is that I tell Bible stories, specifically types and antitypes. A ‘type’ is a prefiguring of a New Testament story in the Old, with the ‘antitype’ being the New Testament bit. For instance, I told ‘the slaughter of the innocents’, both the hideous Hebrew-baby-killing Pharaoh iteration and the Herod-trying-to-eliminate-baby-Jesus-sequel.

My favourite of the series is currently the eponymous ‘King in the Wilderness’. This is the story of how an eccentric chap named Abram travelled out of his native Assyria, having been told by a mysterious, invisible, living God that he will found a new nation. Abram and his long-suffering wife Sarah quickly find out that founding a new nation is very difficult and annoying. They have to: a) face starvation, b) be immigrant workers in wealthy Egypt, and, c) deal with the relentless squabbles over resources with which we humans fill our days. At one point, Abram’s wayward nephew Lot gets kidnapped by some gangsterish kings. Luckily, Abram is able to rescue Lot, and on his way home he meets a stranger in the wilderness who claims to be a king. This ‘King of nowhere’ (whose name, ‘Melchizedek’, means something like ‘My King Is Righteousness’) is not like the warlords that Abram has just tangled with. The two sit down to share some provisions and when Melchizedek prays, Abram knows that he is worshiping the very same living God that he and Sarah have followed into the desert.

In the Christian imagination, Melchizedek is a ‘type’ of Christ: in human terms, weak, having no force of arms or political sway, and yet a true Lord who serves like a priest instead of ruling like a victor.

Maybe it’s true that for all their rich spiritual meanings these stories don’t have a particularly ‘Christmassy’ feel. Since I can’t avoid the accusation, I’ll wear it proudly! While I fervently love Christmassyness, the idea of the advent storytelling sessions was to root around in the tinsel and polystyrene shrimps, and to pluck out something strange and spiky biblicality, throws into relief what the birth of Jesus means to those of us who believe in him.

Wilf Merttens

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