Shadows one and all. Gifts under the tree, people singing carols, lights that twinkle, even Santa Claus, are shadows one and all. We rightly celebrate this time of year by getting together with family and friends, eating good meals which take much time to prepare and exchanging gifts meant to communicate our love for one another. We call it the most wonderful time of the year, and so it is.
But why? Why do we do these things? The history of celebrating Christmas is wide and varied, and there is not time here to go through it all. But maybe the history of various ways of celebrating Christmas is less important than why we celebrate at all. I’ve come to believe that this is just one more example of a celebration meant to shadow the Event that changed everything.
There is a concept in literature and film called eucatastrophe. Eucatastrophe is a term invented by the philologist and popular storyteller J. R. R. Tolkien in his lesser-known essay, On Fairy Stories. He used this term to describe the unexpected turn of events that occur at the end of a story. This twist often makes sure that the central character does not meet some dreadful, imminent, and likely disastrous fate. The word is formed by combining the Greek prefix "eu," which means “good,” to the English word catastrophe.
Eucatastrophe, as used by Tolkien and others, points to the “sorting out” or conclusion of a drama’s plot. Used apologetically, the term connotes a deeper understanding that goes beyond its literal meaning. It refers to the ultimate eucatastrophe that is the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ, which turned the plot of the history of the world. It thus refers to our salvation. In literature and myth, a eucatastrophe is present when the author reveals to the audience that the final card played will be the ultimate turning point where redemption is finally won: The prince breaks into the midst of the kingdom now taken over by the evil witch. He defeats the witch and breaks the evil spell that has kept the princess and her kingdom in chains for over a century.
Focus of Celebration
So, we celebrate, I think, to acknowledge the ultimate eucatastrophe—that at a particular point in history, God became man and dwelt among us. This God-Man took on our sin, fulfilled the Law in our stead, defeated sin, death, and the power of the devil, died, and rose again, all for sinners like you and me. We celebrate because we can do no other. We create these little shadows of God’s mercy and grace and share them with one another because serving each other is how we show our love to God. Yet, our celebrations which focus on one another are, when we have our wits about us, still about the Gospel.
What do I mean? This is what Martin Luther says in the Smallcald Articles:
“We will now return to the Gospel, which not merely in one way gives us counsel and aid against sin; for God is superabundantly rich [and liberal] in His grace [and goodness]. First, through the spoken Word by which the forgiveness of sins is preached [He commands to be preached] in the whole world; which is the peculiar office of the Gospel. Secondly, through Baptism. Thirdly, through the holy Sacrament of the Altar. Fourthly, through the power of the keys, and also through the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren, Matt. 18:20: Where two or three are gathered together, etc.”
Luther is saying here that God's grace and the Gospel come to all of us in an often overlooked way. Luther called it the "mutual conversation and consolation of brethren." It is the friendship and family fellowship that we share with one another, especially this time of the year.
Christ at Christmastide
We now gather together as the fellow redeemed in Christ, and as such His forgiveness is there with us. As the Spirit of Christ goes to work in the proclamation of the Gospel, we find out that the Spirit loves company and celebration. Thus, He gathers us and we celebrate around the message of hope and redemption manifest in the incarnation of Christ this Christmastide. And so, the Spirit gathers us together in twos and threes, fives and tens, and even hundreds and perhaps thousands.
We thus come together to eat and drink, exchange gifts, serve one another, and even while celebrating, we proclaim the Gospel of Christ to one another. We tell one another the story of Christmas. We read Luke 2 together. We share God's love and grace with one another. We mutually console one another. We gather to love one another, to forgive one another in the name of Christ, to be God's people together to celebrate the first proclamation of the Gospel of Christ which began with the angels and shepherds that we shadow in our home nativity scenes.
“And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” – Luke 2:10
So, Merry Christmas to one and all! Today we proclaim the Gospel of Christ Jesus begun at His incarnation, and completed in His death and resurrection for us. Celebrate and be glad, for unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord!