When I hear the words Once Upon A Time, my eyes light up and my ears strain to listen. As an avid reader and lover of stories with happy endings, it is perhaps my favorite literary quote. When you hear it, perhaps it takes you back to happy childhood memories and delights your imagination with the wonders of magic and make-believe.
Ok, so I’ll admit that all sounds a bit corny, but it’s true. For me, anyway. Consequently, story time is one of my favorite times as a parent. Since I’ve always loved to read and hear stories myself, I quite enjoy passing that love onto my kids. My kids (ages 3 ½ and 2) love to pick out a book, snuggle up and hear the same story over and over. Their favorites change as they grow, but their imaginations grow as well.
As I am currently planning a Once Upon A Time themed second birthday party for my little girl, all things princess and fairy tale have been on my mind. She absolutely loves pink, and that was her only party planning contribution. So, a pink party she will get along with plenty of imagination and sweetness for my sweet baby girl.
So when a story starts out with the memorable and intriguing Once Upon A Time, you generally know what to expect. The story is usually about something or someone in a faraway land, sometimes with magical powers or sometimes completely ordinary, but there is always something different about them; something that makes them stand out from the crowd. They usually have something to overcome, with some character-defining moments happening in their story. These moments are often troubling but our hero or heroine always comes out on top, ending with a happily ever after, where the reader is certain the main character has found his or her place in life. The ending point is a place that gives them meaning, a purpose if you will, to live out the remainder of their days.
Reading the above paragraph, is it any wonder why we are attracted to stories like these? We humans seem to always be searching for something. We feel that we have a place in life and that we must find out where, with whom and what it is.
Jesus knew this about us and he often talked in stories, or parables. A parable is defined as a simple story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson. So I ask, would you like to hear a story? It’s a short one, but it’s full of meaning. Jesus often taught and answered questions in parables, like the one below.
“No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” – Matthew 9:16-17
The first few times I read this, I really didn’t understand it. Being a child of the 20th century, I don’t really know the difference between shrunk and unshrunk cloth or have much (well any for that matter) experience with pouring wine into wineskins. When Jesus was on Earth however, these examples made sense to the people.
When people bought new cloth, it would be expected to shrink considerably with washing and wear. When an older, already shrunken, piece of clothing got a tear, it would’ve been silly and wasteful to try and repair it with a new piece of unshrunk cloth. Doing so would just cause another, probably bigger, tear, wasting time and cloth. Similarly, wineskins were used to hold wine for a time, allowing it to ferment and the wineskin would stretch and harden as this happened. If a person were to pour new wine into an older, already stretched and hardened wineskin, the wineskin would most likely burst over time, wasting the wine.
But what does this mean? You see, while Jesus was literally speaking about clothing and wine, the parable has a deeper meaning. He was illustrating Christianity as a completely new religion and way of life. In those times, Judaism was the most common religion and He wanted people to understand that they couldn’t take His “good news” and fit it into the old Jewish laws. It just wasn’t going to work, possibly causing ruin to both.
Though the parable doesn’t directly translate to our culture today, the message is the same for us. When we hear the good news that Jesus died for our sins, affording us the opportunity to live for Him and secure a heavenly home, we can either choose to accept and embrace it, turning away from our old lives of sin and walking anew in the footsteps of Jesus, or turn away from it and choose to continue as we were. The parable tells us that we cannot choose both a life of sin and a life with Christ. The two simply can’t co-exist.
Once upon a time, God sent His only Son to Earth to live a human life, a life without sin. None other had achieved this before and none would after Him. (Rom. 3:23) Jesus lived a sinless, perfect life teaching and telling others the good news. This news was that whoever heard His words, believed them, turned away from and repented of their sins, would confess this truth to men and was baptized for the remission of sins should inherit eternal life. (John 3:16)
As a parent, this is perhaps the most important story I will teach to my children. I desire not only to teach it to them, but to live an example they can see. “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” – Matt. 5:16 I’m not saying that I will do this perfectly, but I want to try.
As you look at your life, are you attempting to pour new wine into an old wineskin? Are you attempting to sew both the worldly things of Earth and a love for God together in the same cloth? I think we are all guilty of this at times. I pray this post is a reminder for us all, myself included, that we Christians are to be set apart, as “a city set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matt. 5:14) and that with Jesus, we can have a happily ever after.