By Rev. Marc Whitehead
Every Christmas, the Chamber of Commerce in the town I grew up in, set up an elaborate display of coloured lights, and fairy-tale vignettes in the local park.
Like Eaton’s Christmas windows, it allowed us to catch a glimpse of a world of magic and mystery, where piglets could outsmart wolves, and fairy godmothers could sweep away hardship with the wave of a wand.
At the centre of the display was a larger than life nativity scene, complete with sheep and camels, and a baby lying on a bed of hay.
It never struck me as odd that princesses and pigs could comfortably co-exist with angels and the baby Jesus. It all seemed part of a magical world where anything could happen, where animals could talk, and angels sang, if only we would listen.
J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Hobbit, believed that fairy stories provided readers with a unique window through which to glimpse moments of joy and truth—glimpses which pointed towards “the greatest fairy story of all, the story of Jesus Christ, the fairy story which is also a fact.”
The story of Christmas isn’t a fairy tale because it’s untrue; It’s because it’s too good not to be true, and allows us to see things “not as they are, but as we are meant to see them.”
Jeffrey Overstreet argues that “fairy tales train us to perceive the sacred in the common, the extraordinary in the ordinary.” It’s not that fairy tales provide an escape from a world of violence, poverty, and injustice, but, like the story of Christ, hold out to us the possibility of overcoming them.
All fairy tales, Tolkien argued, echo the gospel of Jesus Christ in some way because the gospel is the True Story; it’s the real fairy tale that crashed into the time line of history.
As Overstreet sums it up, “grace does not follow the rules of reason. We can laugh even when things are at their worst, because we know mercy will break through and upset everything our rational minds accept. A prince’s kiss will awaken his sleeping bride. The Word made flesh will lift a terrible curse.”