Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas from Middle-earth! The Spirit of Christmas Exemplified in Frodo Baggins

As I mentioned in my last I Have An Inkling Blog entry, there is no Christmas in Middle-earth because the stories pre-date the coming of Christ. However, there are some events which take place which seem (at least to me) to foreshadow what Christ would do. As Tolkien and C. S. Lewis would remind us, mythology often pictures Christian ideas and events. For example, there is the recurring theme of a god who dies and is resurrected. Of course, Gandalf the White is often seen as an obvious picture of the resurrected Christ.

For the Christian, the Jewish scriptures often foreshadow Christ in what some have called Types. (This Truth for Today page has a good synopsis of this Theological view.) Jonah in the Great Fish for three days is seen as a Type of Christ's death and resurrection. Abraham's offering of Isaac on Mount Moriah is also seen as a picture of Christ's death and resurrection. As the writer of the book of Hebrews in the New Testament writes:

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had
received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it
was said, "In Isaac your seed shall be called," concluding that God
was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received
him in a figurative sense. [11:17-19 NKJV]

Moses, Joseph and others have also been referenced as picturing Christ in certain ways.

I think there is a picture of Christ in The Lord of the Rings that has been overlooked. Whether Tolkien intended it or not, I have always thought it was no accident that Frodo leaves Rivendell on December 25, and that the Ring is destroyed near the end of March, which would be some time around Easter. (See "Appendix B" of The Return of the King.) Frodo began his journey from the safety of Rivendell on December 25. In our western culture, Christians celebrate Christ leaving Heaven to be born in Bethlehem on that same date.

There are many ideas of what the "spirit of Christmas" is. The way many of us "celebrate" the holiday here in the United States, I wonder if we think the spirit of Christmas is materialism and overindulgence. Forty-some years ago, "A Charlie Brown Christmas" helped us to remember that Christmas is about more than receiving presents, but does the Story of the Christ-Child give us any help in how Christians should live today?

The true "spirit of Christmas," I believe, is found in the book of Philippians in the New Testament. The believers in Philippi were becoming rather arrogant and bickering among themselves. The Apostle Paul writes to remind them:

If you've gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means
anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree
with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don't push your way
to the front; don't sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help
others get ahead. Don't be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget
yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.
Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn't think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the
privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having
become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn't
claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then
died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a
crucifixion. [The Message 2:1-8]

The spirit of Christmas is the spirit of giving. Not giving expensive presents that we cannot afford, but giving of ourselves for others. It is thinking about others and their needs rather than our own. This is what Frodo did when he stood up in front of the Council of Elrond and said, "I will take the Ring to Mordor." No one was requiring him to do it, but Frodo realized that he was the only one who could accomplish the mission, if anyone could. He willingly gave up the comforts of The Shire and the House of Elrond to make the journey to Mordor, which, as far as he knew, would mean his death. As Abraham figuratively received Isaac back from the dead, so Frodo is figuratively raised from certain death when he is rescued by the Eagles.

Frodo exemplifies the spirit of Christmas by his selfless willingness to go to Mordor for the benefit of others. May the same spirit be seen in us this Christmas and throughout the year.

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