Daniel Darling is the Vice-President of Communications for The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and a regular contributor to several leading evangelical publications, including Christianity Today, Homelife, InTouch, and others. He has authored six books, including Teen People of the Bible, The Original Jesus, and The Dignity Revolution. Dan is a teaching pastor at Green Hill Church in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, and lives with his wife and their four children in the Nashville area.
Tragically, the Christmas narrative has apparently become rote and routine for many of us. The reality that God the Son condescended, migrating earthward and being conceived as a human fetus, taking up residence in His mother’s womb like the rest of us, has sadly become boring to us.
And it shows.
But, The Characters of Christmas: The Unlikely People Caught Up in the Story of Jesus, is Daniel Darling’s attempt to re-frame the Christmas narrative by zeroing in on the supporting cast as a way of magnifying its central character, Jesus the son of Joseph and Mary, the son of David, the son of Abraham, the Son of God.
Darling, in this book, introduces his reader to a cast of characters not often highlighted in the biblical narrative. He spends time acquainting us with Joseph, the adopted father of Jesus, with Zechariah and Elizabeth, the uncle and aunt of Jesus, with Mary, the mother of Jesus, and then with the choir of angels, an oft-neglected innkeeper, shepherds and wise men, Herod, Simeon and Anna, and finally Jesus’ family line, especially a group of women mentioned in his genealogy. In each chapter, Darling highlights one of these figures, offers a bit of backstory that helps color in the narrative, and then makes surprisingly keen, profitable application points for the reader. Finally, each chapter closes with a group of study reflections and a suggested Christmas song which helps drive home some of the content covered in each successive chapter.
If the aim of this book was to resurrect some of the awe of the Christmas narrative and, further, to highlight the supremacy of the God-man, Jesus Christ, then Darling has succeeded. This is a book worthy of your time.
Certainly, more could be said in response to this book than I’ll give here, but suffice it to say that, though there are plenty of things clawing for your time in the days leading up to Christmas, you would do well to squeeze this short book into your calendar. It won’t take you long to work through, but it offers a sizeable payoff if you’ll make time for it.
I appreciate Darling because the research that he’s done for this book and the sources that he quotes throughout are overwhelmingly primary sources. Meaning, he isn’t quoting popular-level evangelical theology here, he’s quoting the likes of Luther, Calvin, Buechner, and Spurgeon, among others. Evangelicalism needs more Luther, Calvin, and Spurgeon, so Darling has done us all a huge favor by anchoring much of what he’s written in historical, orthodox theologians like these.
Secondly, just a quick word about Darling as a writer. It seems woefully inadequate to compliment him simply as a strong writer – undoubtedly, he is. Rather, I’ll say it like this. He is a skilled craftsman and, on top of that, uniquely pastoral in the way he writes. Not that he attempted this, but he was unable to empty himself of his pastoral sensibilities in this book. Sentence after sentence was drenched in shepherding care for the reader, which I greatly appreciate. Likewise, there are a handful of sentences in this book which are so applicable and so piercing, it’s undeniable that Darling has been gifted with the ability and opportunity to speak to our culture with a prophetic weight. And, by God’s grace, he wields this prophetic gift like a shepherd. For these reasons and more, this book is a gift to all those who’ll read it. And so you, reader, should read it.
[I received this book free of charge from Moody Publishers in exchange for an honest review.]