Luke 2:1 – “In those days …”
These are the first three words of Luke’s version of the Christmas story. Luke records such an amazing story, but opens it in such a bland way. “In those days …” So generic. So common. So blah. Sounds like the opening to a story I might put down. I could scarcely imagine a weaker starting syntax.
Because of this, I have compiled a list of replacements I am recommending. I would make this as a formal motion, but it might be more fun just to use this for our discussion purposes. These opening lines are all stolen from current books, but current books often steal their lines from the Bible, so I figured it would be okay. Each opener offers us a new possibility to help set the stage for the incarnation narrative and each would color it in a slightly different way.
- “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” Okay, this one might be overplayed a bit in our current culture, but it is still a great opening. It sets up the dichotomy for what is about to come. It grabs hold of you and pulls you into this story. (Charles Dickens, “A Tale of Two Cities”)
- “We wanted more.” It succinctly states a desire. It immediately creates a sense that something is lacking. These three words grab my attention. It has a definite hook. It has an alluring draw. (Justin Torres, “We the Animals”)
- “A cradle won’t hold my baby.” What if Mary had an opening line of lament in this story? What if readers heard this as literal in the beginning and then wondered if it was meant to be figurative as they kept reading? (Daniel Woodrell, “Uncle”)
- “Here is a weird one for you.” It owns up to the oddity of what we call gospel in a refreshingly honest way. (David Foster Wallace, “Signifying Nothing”)
- “Once upon a time and a very good time it was …” This would help all of us who want to open up the Christmas programs with a brighter tone and some added warmth. (James Joyce, “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”)
- “When the blind man arrived in the city, he claimed that he had travelled across a desert of living sand.” Mysterious and enigmatic. This opener would definitely set the stage for Jesus’ ministry. (Kevin Brockmeier, “The Brief History of the Dead”)
- “I told you last night that I might be gone sometime, and you said, Where, and I said, To be with the Good Lord, and you said, Why, and I said, Because …” I would just have to keep reading to see where exactly this conversation was heading. (Marilynne Robinson, “Gilead”)
- “See the child.” Draws in your focus. Intensifies the arrival. Cormac McCarthy, (“Blood Meridian”)
- “He speaks in your voice …” What a beautiful image from which we could begin to envision the incarnation. A voice for the voiceless. A voice that we would recognize. (Don DeLillo, “Underworld”)
- “You better not never tell nobody but God.” Perhaps this one might work better in Matthew, and the magi could whisper it to each other after they were warned not to return to Herod. But still, a great opening line that makes you wonder what is not never supposed to be not told to nobody. (Alice Walker, “The Color Purple”)
- “Some real things have happened lately.” This makes me wonder how many fake things happen in our world. It also makes me curious about what really-real-things have just taken place. (Joan Didion, “The Last Thing He Wanted”)
- “It is a truth universally acknowledged.” I would love to hold this one up against Pilate’s question about truth in John’s Gospel. And a claim about universal acknowledgement would grab the attention of the critic and the skeptic alike. (Jane Austen, “Pride and Prejudice”)
- “A screaming comes across the sky.” This one ranks up there with “a voice cries out in the wilderness.” I’m not sure what the screaming would be about, though. Perhaps it is the cry of the census. Perhaps it is the cry of the people. Perhaps it is the cry of our God who has had enough. (Thomas Pynchon, “Gravity’s Rainbow”)
- “Pale freckled eggs.” Not sure how to connect this one. I just love this opening line. I also wasn’t sure if you would read this far into my list. Perhaps it could work if they had to move the pale freckled eggs out of the way to make a place to lay the baby in the hay. (Nadine Gordimer, “The Conservationist”)
- “The time has come.” This draws your attention to the present. Something is happening. Something right now is about to occur and everyone should take note. Because after this time that has now come, a shift will take place. But I guess in a way this is what Luke was doing, too. ( Seuss, “Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now!”)
Luke 2:1 – “In those days …”
Luke 2:11 – “This day.”
Okay, Luke. Well played! I see what you were doing now. You did set up a nice dichotomy and draw us in little by little. Comparing what has occurred with something new that is just beginning. Those days are over because this day has arrived. I guess you did have a pretty good opening line after all. You can keep it. But this was still a fun list to create! Do you have any others to add?
BRIAN CHRISTOPHER COULTER is a husband, father, pastor, author, blogger and pingpong champion who is pretty good at sidewalk chalk and currently resides in Aiken, South Carolina.