At the end of this summer, I spoke on a Sunday morning at the new church plant I am involved with in Quincy, Massachusetts, called The River. I talked about this word that linguist and The Lord of the Rings author, J. R. R. Tolkien, coined. The word is “eucatastrophe.” It means “good will overcome.” Tolkien coined this word because of his own Christian worldview. If you would like to hear that talk, please check it out here: http://theriversouth.org/sermons/entering-the-third-act-when-all-hope-seems-lost
Wrapped up in the word eucatastrophe is this idea that redemption only comes about by the facing of great obstacles. Tolkien saw the central eucatastrophe of human history as the birth of Christ, what we have taken to celebrating at this time of the year. And for Tolkien, the central eucatastrophe of the life of Christ on Earth was his death and resurrection.
As an artists, Christmas holds a very powerful significance to me. For people like me in the arts and academia who also seek to follow Christ, there is an important and on-going discussion about the mingling in art and life of the “divine” and the “profane.” What I mean by this is that in art, as in pretty much all of life, there really is no clear dividing line between that which is truly sacred and truly profane, or “merely of this world.” Instead, we find eucatastrophe: redemption in the unlikeliest of ways. We find hope in the middle of hopelessness, love in the middle of so much hate, forgiveness where none is deserved, beauty in the ugliest places. Even a quick read through the Bible will show how much grace abounds among those seeking relationship with God despite how profane they are, and just how much God exists in and works through the messiness of life.
Does this mean there is nothing that is profane and nothing that is divine or sacred? Not at all. But it does mean that these two ideas do not exit in complete exclusivity of each other.
What I’m reminded of at Christmas is that the central meeting place of the divine and the profane is in fact in the earthly birth of Christ. What could be more absurd, more profane, than the notion that the son of God would subject himself to being born as a helpless human baby in a dirty stable. What could be more profane than the Creator of the universe being subjected to living out a human life in a world filled with hate. In Jesus, we find the true collision of the divine and the profane. And in the ultimate gesture of obedience to his Father, Jesus brought about the most profoundly beautiful and most despicably profane of eucatastrophies: his death on the cross.
This most basic aspect of the Christian worldview can be easily glossed over with cute stories about baby Jesus. But for me, this gesture on God’s part to directly connect with us even in our broken and profane states informs everything about who I am and how I approach my work a storyteller. I celebrate Christmas as a reminder that God does not shy away from the profane. Instead, he seeks to redeem it. He has and will continue to reach out into our world and our lives to redeem that which is profane, transforming it into something beautiful and true. As an artist, I want to partner in this eucatastrophic work of the divine.