Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas: The Epic Interruption

The word ‘epic’ is over-used by holiday advertisers. The word ‘interruption’ is mostly avoided. It seems a silly thing to call a cellphone or a car ‘epic,’ just as it would be ludicrous to call a tugboat ‘titanic’ or a shovel ‘earth-shattering.’ Calling them ‘interruptions’ would be more appropriate. Who hasn’t had their enjoyment of a concert or conversation interrupted by the ringing phone, or had a pleasant afternoon destroyed by a car accident? One may argue that advertisers’ unscrupulous application of words like ‘epic’ undercuts the meaning of such words and renders them impotent. I, of course, agree, but as far as I can tell, this isn’t problem with using these words to describe the mundane. Hyperbole is a relatively innocent way of reminding us that the everyday can be transcendent. No better example is there than the case of God’s being born into a stable.

-Wait a second, didn’t you blog about the Nativity already? You mean I read through all that tom-foolery about the Incarnation on Ice only to have you shove it in my face again!

Yes, kind reader, I’m afraid I’m among that number trying to keep Christ in Christmas. As I was saying, the Christmas story is more-than-epic, or rather, it is monumental without being a monument. It is alive. Were it truly epic in the way that the ‘Iliad,’ ‘Les Miserables,’ ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Phantom of the Opera’ are called epic, than it would have long since become a relic of academia collecting dust in the Ivory Tower. Obsolescence is the destiny of everything that takes upon itself the term ‘epic.’ A cellphone that claims to be ‘epic’ might very well have amazing speed and revolutionary communicative capabilities, but precisely because it desires to be this generation’s (the 4G or Fourth Generation we are told) epic event, it will be the next generation’s antique.

-Not that I’m complaining, but I thought that you were going to talk about the Christmas Story. All this cultural commentary is almost as repulsive as your apologetics.

O good reader, an excellent point. Thank you for your patience. I was hinting that the Christmas Story is a ‘transcendent epic.’ The term is strange so I will lay-out some common charactersistics of an epic.

1) Epics begin ‘in medias res,’ a good translation of which would be ‘in the middle of things’ or ‘in the thick of it.’ In short, an epic is a glorified interruption! Having already established that other epic-titled things are indeed interruptions, let’s stress that St. Luke’s gospel makes it clear that the Nativity was one too. Mary, Joseph, the Wise-men, Herod, the Chief Priests and the shepherds were all quite busy. They had their own set of expectations. It certainly wasn’t a very convenient time for God to bust-up into their world. Even the faithful characters of the gospel narrative have to be given visions and miracles to be pushed in the right direction. St. Luke’s opening lines make it clear that the world was in the midst of several other reigns-of-kings when the King of Kings arrived on the scene.

2) Epics are sweeping. There are journeys, adventures, plots, councils and heroism. In this department, the Nativity Story carries its own weight. Only the drama Christ’s death can outdo the drama of Christ’s birth. There are twists and turns that contrast well with the somewhat ponderous sermons and healings populating the rest of Luke’s and Matthew’s gospels.

3) The setting is romantic. Robes and royals. Insurrection and Incense. Exotic cities and angel’s singing. The Christmas pageant has more authentic pageantry than all other pageants put together.

-That was rather redundant.

See how tempting it is to interrupt. This brings us to a fourth point that applies only to the Nativity:

4) Most importantly of all, the Christmas Story is a real story. Therefore, it was a real interruption. It threw human history out-of-sorts. Time is measured in relation to IT. As a result nothing else that claims the adjective ‘epic’ can hold a candle to the advent wreath. Hector never really ran laps around Troy. A car’s state-of-the-art fuel injection system will never bring about the revolution in society that it can bring about in mechanics. But Jesus was indeed born. Anything that rightfully or wrongfully claims the name ‘epic’ is destined to pass that torch to something else. Jesus, however is still alive. And this Christmas is his 2010th birthday party. He is epic still.

-Now I see where you’re going with this. It’s another one of those ‘True-Meaning-of-Christmas’ bits. Well, if you think I have the time to incorporate any more pious drivel into my holiday schedule, you have another thing coming. I’m already going to make it to church on Christmas day: that should be enough for you and God.

You know, honest reader, there is more in common between our feelings than you would guess. But we were talking about the epic-ness of God, and you seem reluctant to accept the concept. I don’t blame you either. Compared to super-fast cars, movies and cellphones, what chance does a first century Jew born in a stable stand? But there is this final trait of epics:

5) Epics implant meaning. They interrupt the follow of an already-proceeding storyline and provide it with the twist necessary to render the whole event plausible. Voldemort is around before the Harry Potter books begin. The Ring exists long before Frodo is even born. Christ comes into an already doomed world to give it new life. But because His is a real story, there is no way that it can be robbed of its value.

The choice before us, you and me both kind reader, is whether or not we’re willing to celebrate the Nativity over-and-above the holiday-hijinks that are now claiming to be as epic as the Word-made-Flesh. The Reality of Christ keeps Him in Christmas. It’s whether or not we bother to invite Him into our own messy, stinky, cluttered stable that will determine whether own Christmas will be epic or anti-climatic.

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