On my lists of favorite movies, books, podcasts, etc., there are some things that are R-rated. There are a lot of reasons why I love these things that are sometimes painfully full of mature content. Most of those reasons have to do with the objective value they have as art. But they also have to do with some other things that I spend a lot of time thinking about: comedy, King David and the scandalous reality of the Incarnation.
Comedy is deeply involved with the always messy reality of being human. Aristotle says that comedy portrays those who are worse than us. A helpful rewrite of that might be that it portrays those who display what is less polished, more embarrassing, even more sinful than the people we like to think we are. And importantly — the thing that makes comedy a good parallel for the story of grace — is that those people get better than what they deserve. The trajectory of comedy is upward. While poor quality comedy tends to use the messiness of life to take cheap shots — to try to get us to laugh by sheer force of shock value — high quality comedy tends to contain its fair share of the mess as well. Rather than cheat its way into cheap laughs, it embraces the mess and pulls it up into its upward and redemptive trajectory.
I have been praying about acceptance lately. It is one of those words that felt sort of colorless and forced to me for a long time. Recently, I have been seeing it in the context of comedy, and that has helped me to see its beauty. Because to allow my story to be brought into the upward trajectory that God is always trying to write in my life, I have to accept the full reality of who I am and what my story has been so far. God only deals in the real. He loves not the facade version of myself that I would like people to see, but the person I actually am. If I try to will away any chapter of my story that is ugly or embarrassing or terribly painful, I lose the integrity of the whole, redemptive story that God wants to write in my life. By embracing the reality of my whole messy story and self, I can allow God to bring all of it into his redemptive and upward trajectory.
On my list of arguably R-rated favorites is King David of the Old Testament. If lusting after a married woman, impregnating her and having her husband killed to cover it up isn’t an R-rated storyline, I don’t know what is. Even more dramatically and obviously than in comedy, his messiness is pulled into the redemptive, upward trajectory of God’s grace and mercy. What is clear in David’s story is that this grace is unlocked in his life because of his radical trust in and wholehearted love for God.
God does not leave us to deal with the story on our own. He comes all the way down into the reality of our lives to meet us exactly where we are and to walk with us into the full beauty and glory of who he created us to be. The Incarnation tells us that he is not afraid of our mess, that he wants to be with us exactly where we are. The Gospels constantly paint the same picture: Jesus eating with public sinners, seeking out the weak to follow him and physically touching the ritually unclean to heal them. His Passion tells us that he can use the darkest parts of our story as the very instrument for his victory, but he always waits on our yes.
That is why acceptance is very different from complacency or giving up. Acceptance is actually the only real path to change and growth — to allowing his story to continue and unfold. It is a necessary step of saying yes and opening our whole selves to the love of God.
That matches how human stories work. If you want to get to the true happy ending of a story, you cannot pretend that the preceding chapters were other than what they were. It would break the integrity of the story. Similarly, if you want a doctor or a coach to help you get to your goal, they need to know how you are actually doing, not how you wish you were doing. Even more so, if you want the God who loves you and who will not infringe on your freedom to heal you, you have to give him access to who you really are. It takes courage to see yourself as you truly are, and it takes even more courage and trust to open yourself and surrender yourself to God. That acceptance and courage gives permission to God to bring the whole of your story and who you are into an upward, redemptive trajectory more beautiful than even the best of comedies.
That is why comedy is such a helpful lens for me. It helps me to reflect more concretely on what it means for me to receive the reality of the Word made flesh and to say yes to him being born in my life — my real and very messy life. It strengthens and contextualizes my hope in the reality of redemption and brings a new and joyful layer to my celebration of the Incarnation at Christmas.