On December 17th of this year a childhood dream of mine is going to be realized. I have waited years upon years for this day and its almost here. What is this important day? You don’t know? It is the day that the final installment of the Hobbit movie franchise opens in theaters!
When I was a kid, I read through Tolkien’s epic adventures The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings like kids today have been reading through Harry Potter. As a child I got lost in the stories about Bilbo, Legolas, Thorin and Gandalf and fascinated by the cast of hobbits, elves, dwarves, wizards and dragons. As I got older every few years I would revisit middle-Earth and each time as I grew older the stories grew deeper in meaning and more profound in scope. Not only were they stories about dragons and dwarves, but these were individual characters on the greater stage of drama that spanned across time. The great story of the kings, the rings, the one ring to rule them all, the great evil, the all-seeing eye, the age of elves and the coming age of man all playing out against the grand themes of courage and cowardice, sacrifice and selfishness, sacred and profane, good and evil, God and creation. Remember Tolkien was a Christian, like his good friend and writing mate the great Christian writer C.S. Lewis and his faith came out in his writing.
Ever since reading those stories over and over again throughout my adult years the chance to see it onscreen, through the whole Lord of the Rings and now the completion of the Hobbit has been a small dream come true for me.
Even in the movies you get this sense, that the characters act out within a grander story and that the grander story gives meaning to the common plight of the characters. Whether we realize it or not we live within grand narratives that lend meaning to our common everyday day experiences and life as well.
There are personal grand narratives that shape how we see ourselves and our world; these narratives can many times be summed up in single words. Like worker, I see myself as a hard worker and live my life according to that narrative. Or happiness, this word sums up the grand narrative of how and why many people make the kinds of choices that they do. Popular is another one, though often left behind in the land of high school and undergrad, this word can continue to define a person’s life and how they view others. Here are some more failure, this narrative as well shapes a life and the decisions made. Or victim, hurt so badly by the actions of others that shapes the perceptions. Loser, or whatever the adolescent equivalent is today that shapes a person’s whole worldview and their place in the story.
There are other more subtle grand narratives that the world is trying to sell you. One of these narratives is the great story of good and evil, but it tells its story by defining everything in this world has being evil or broken beyond repair or beyond redemption or help. We live within this evil, broken beyond repair or redemption kind of world. Everything around you is bad and the main goal of a human life is to get out of this bad world with its bad people and bad things and get away to where only the spiritual things are because spiritual things are good and were trying to escape to them. This grand narrative is told by religions like Hinduism where the spirit is trying to get back to Brahman the ultimate spirit. The ancient Greek philosophers that maintained that the material world was evil and just a shadow of the eternal spiritual forms; spiritual enlightment is the freeing of the spirit from the bondage of the body. Even in many Christian circles this grand narrative is told in popular Christian songs that say “take this world and give me Jesus, I’ve thrown it all away. World bad, spirit good, main goal of this life is to get out of here and get to the spirit.
There is one more grand narrative out there that is trying to be very persuasive. It takes the last one and takes it one step farther. It says there is no spirit at all, only the material. If there is not spirit, then the material has no purpose, no meaning, no direction. All that we see and all that we are is merely a random act of chance, a comsic hiccup floating around in a big black cosmic accident coming from nowhere and going to nowhere. Every act of courage, strength, humility, sacrifice or love all means nothing in a universe that goes back to nothing in the cold, dark night.
But in the midst of all of these narratives there is one that stands out and tells a much different kind of story for us to live within and gives meaning to our common everyday life, that is the story that God tells. That is the Christmas story.
This is the story that God tells us. “But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” All of creation belongs to God and it is a creation fashioned by the potter’s hands through all of the vast history of creation. This creation and all that is in it, that includes us belongs to God and he has made us material and spiritual, body and soul and breath of life. Because this creation belongs to God and is the formed by the shape of his desires and eternal purposes, we have purpose to receive the love of God and respond in faith, then to share the love of God and live as good caretakers of His good creation.
That is a very important part of his story that God tells us, because it is all made through His will and intention and finds its life and meaning within Him, there is no “material bad/spiritual good” story with God. All of this is God’s good creation that was given freedom by God to live and to choose what is good but also free to choose that which goes against God’s desires and purposes.
But God does not abandon his creation, he does not destroy the craftsmanship of His hands rather God in His love redeems and transforms His creation from the inside out. That is the Christmas story, God’s love and word becoming flesh and entering into the clay of our world through the womb of the Virgin Mary.
Because God in Jesus came into our world His story lends a nobility and dignity to our mortal clay as the Grand Narrative of His Salvation story for creation plays out in Jesus. Within this grand narrative of God’s salvation God does not abandon us to the dust of our clay but has come into our clay this Christmas to mold and fashion us into the people He desires, a people after His own heart and who participate within the great grand narrative of His salvation story for all of creation, that one day will be fulfilled when God makes all things new.
As Christians, it is this Grand Story of Salvation that God is accomplishing through the birth of His son on Christmas that we live out our lives upon and that gives meaning and purpose to our everyday life and work in the Lord. God’s story supersedes all of the other ones, especially the ones that may say we have no purpose, or we are an accident or we are victims or failures, instead we are reminded, God is the potter and we are the clay, we are His redeemed creation and the work of His hands. Merry Christmas.