There is a local theater in Greensboro, NC that wrote and has performed a musical for the past two Christmases called” Beautiful Star.” I have been listening to the soundtrack lately, so the play has been on my mind. There are two things I love about it: the broader story of the Bible that points to the coming of Christ and the bluegrass music with excellent lyrics.
First, a little background about the play. “Beautiful Star” tells different events from the Bible leading up to and including Jesus’ birth as if they were being performed by an Appalachian church as their Christmas pageant. Ten or twelve Appalachian church-folk characters play all the characters in the different stories, including God, Satan (and the Serpent he embodies in tempting Eve to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil), Adam, Eve, Noah, his wife and kids, Sarah, Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, Mary, the wise men, the shepherds, and angels. The set, costumes, and props are rustic but creative.
It starts with creation and the fall, when sin first entered the world. It tells of how evil Satan is (one line from the song about this event is “Your faith is his target, and he aims to kill.” Yes, great lyrics) and how sin ruined our relationship with God. We could never get back to the Garden of Eden, to a right relationship with Him. We need someone to make that right.
The musical moves to Noah and the flood, telling of how the world became so evil that God’s justice demanded he destroy it. But, like all the other stories of the Bible, his compassion and love for his creation is also present: he spares Noah and his family, allowing the earth to continue to have life on it. There is still hope for humanity.
Then we see Sarah, Abraham, and their son, Isaac. God calls Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, his only son. Though he is distraught and confused, Abraham obediently takes Isaac up Mount Moriah to sacrifice him. Right before Abraham kills Isaac, an angel of the Lord appears and tells Abraham, “Now I know you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” (Genesis 22:12). The angel points him to a ram caught in a thicket to use for the sacrifice instead of his son. This is more than a test of faith; it is an illustration, a vision. God will give his only son as a sacrifice to atone for the sins of his people, his children.
The story moves to the New Testament and sets up the scene with the shepherds, followed by Joseph and Mary. We see King Herod and the wise men. And Jesus is born in a manger in Bethlehem, a humble place for a king.
I love that the musical begins at the beginning, as it were. The story of the birth of Jesus Christ makes so much more sense and is so much more beautiful in light of the whole picture.
The lyrics continue to flesh the story out. They put emotions and background to the events so familiar to those raised in the church. The song for the creation story is called “By his heart and by his hand,” and it reminds me of the power and intense love with which God created this earth and us, his image-bearers. He has emotions, and we are close to his heart. during Joseph and Mary’s journey to Bethlehem, they play a song called “The Stable Shed” from the perspective of the innkeeper. This one is mostly funny, with lines like “I don’t know why this inn I keep, a man ’round here can’t get no sleep, ain’t got no rooms, ain’t got no beds, what’s all the trouble in stable shed?” The next lines record the odd and amazing sight: “And there he saw the baby sweet, the beasts all bowed down at his feet, a barnyard room, a manger bed, Savior born in a stable shed.” The creative and interesting lyrics make me think about the real people, histories, and emotions behind the Bible stories I know and love.
My hope is this advent season, you and I will more deeply ponder the purpose and depth behind the story of Jesus’ birth.