There is a moment in The Last Jedi when Luke Skywalker says, “it’s just a legend.” He tells his apprentice and former master (Yoda) that he now believes there was little substance to the reality of the Jedi myths and teachings. What gave the Jedi power, according to Luke, was the belief others placed in the Jedi’s stories and legends.
Like many who hold on to the religious ideals of their youth, the aging Skywalker feels out of step with the present. The grand, Manichean framework of the Jedi has been abandoned. You can tell, when people say, “May the force be with you,” no one means it. What made sense in a Jedi mediated world (and was understood through the ancient Jedi texts) no longer resonates with contemporary galaxy. Luke wants the Jedi teachings to matter in a world where evil threatens the existence of good. Good, for the sake of good alone, isn’t defeating evil.
At a critical moment Yoda intervenes. Yoda asks Luke: Can 1st century Jedi myths be intelligible to 21st century Christian communities? Once a first century pre-modern Jedi world view is superseded, do the gospels still make sense to people like us?
I’m sorry, I’m meant to say Rudolf Bultmann. When Yoda spoke, I heard Bultmann. Luke said, “I’m just a legend.” Luke’s dialogue with Yoda held faint echoes of Bonhoeffer writing about religionless Christianity from a Nazi prison cell. I also heard another Luke, whose stories I’ll read this weekend. Yes, I found myself asking a very Last Jedi question of Master Bultmann: do these legends still make sense to people like us?
Here’s what I learned from Bultmann. My faith doesn’t rest on a series of provable propositions. I know Jesus wasn’t born on December 25th, the sexuality issues don’t bother me, I know the wise men are apocryphal, Joseph was an old man, and there probably wasn’t a census. I don’t read Luke 1 or 2 for history. My faith is not built on a belief in wise men or the virgin birth. I don’t care how Jesus gets here. It’s more important to me that he’s here. I believe because of an empty tomb, not an occupied manger. Yet the stories of the manger give context to the empty tomb. Mary links both events. Listen to Mary.
It’s easy for us to get worked up about the scandalous nature of Jesus being born in abject poverty to an unwed teenage mother. Jesus became a refugee to escape genocide. These things are heartbreaking and cause us to look at the ongoing fallen, sinful nature of our own time. As bad as those things are, that’s not the real scandal. Christmas helps me make sense of the one story which matters more than the manger: the Cross.
Richard Lowell Bryant