Christmas causes the worn-out world to pause for a moment. All of earth takes a deep breath and celebrates the coming of the King. It recalls the familiar story in precise detail.
Uncomfortably pregnant Mary traveling per government mandate, no vacancy at the inn, the impromptu maternity ward in the barn, the sneaky wisemen throwing a baby shower. We know the specifics by heart, but it all still seems a bit odd to me.
Christmas seemed poorly conceived, destined to fail. God chose a messed-up family tree. He then selected unmarried, teenage, first-time parents. And the birth came during a time of killing baby boys. If I had been planning the saving of the world, I would have waited, at best. If I had written the story, the details would have been very different.
This story seemed like an impending disaster, a catastrophe waiting to happen. And in a way, it was. But not an ordinary catastrophe, a special catastrophe. A eucatastrophe.
A eucatastrophe is a sudden, favorable resolution, or rescue from certain doom. It is the sudden glimpse of goodness (eu-) appearing in an unexpected evil (catastrophe).
Just as all hope appears lost.
My son teaches English at UC Irvine. His love for reading and books began early. Many Christmases included books like The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings. I never read either series. I wish I had. My sharing his love of fiction ended at Toy Story and Berenstain Bears.
If I had been reading along with him, I would have known that eucatastrophe is woven into The Lord of the Rings books. Tolkien himself coined the phrase and said, “The birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of man’s history.”
The happy turn of history. A glimpse of Christ in the unexpected manger. Joy.
Eucatastrophe: the moment when Hope pierced through our dark world.
Could there be a better description of Christmas? Could there have been a better literary device or faith surprise?
It happens on a large scale at Christmas, but as in all of Christianity, the grand scheme has to become personal. The eucatastrophe was always meant to happen on an individual level as well. Christ must somehow enter our personal history. The Everlasting Light must break through our daily despair.
So we occasionally try to pull God into our story.
We have been deluded into thinking that God is waiting around for us to ask Him to become part of our human narrative. Our finite, self-centered little story starring us. We think inviting God into our storyline is the eucatastrophe.
I was guilty of that the night I asked God to help me make a difference. I wanted to have my own show, or at least an episode. And even as my battle with heart failure took an unexpected downturn last Christmas, I struggled with God’s authorship, and with my own significance in the plot. From my journal:
Still tweaking meds and my device to figure out what is going on now that I am not doing so well. Had an appointment today to “make some adjustments.”
The ICD rep came up to me in the waiting room with another guy. Gesturing to me, he said, “This is the one who had the remarkable improvement.” The assistant nodded that he understood. Somehow I felt burdened by that.
I feel like I am letting everyone down by getting worse. I hope I can carry this story out. Or I can carry out the story God wants for my life. I feel inadequate and discouraged. Or am I fooling myself? Is God even part of this at all?
I was in the waiting room, waiting for God to enter my life story. Not realizing I was, even in my doubt and brokenness, already part of His.
When that sinks in, it is liberating. We don’t have to design this story or craft the plot. We are not the authors, not even the main characters. But it is like being part of the best novel or production ever written.
When we can fully embrace the brevity of life, we get a sense that we are part of the same story. That after we are gone, the story doesn’t end. Life will continue, Christmas will be celebrated, children will be born. Eucatastrophes will keep happening. At that moment of realization, we are most connected to the Author God.
We are all part of one never-ending plotline. That’s why I love The Story. The history of God and His people is told in chronological order. The bible unfolds in novel form. It gives someone like me who came to grasp and appreciate God’s word later in life, a framework for those bible sagas. But even more importantly, it gives the sense that all of history is connected. And that even now we are continuing the story, in chapters still being written. All authored by a faithful God who has refused to give up on us.
Each individual life at some point makes a choice: do we pull Him in for guest appearances in our trite short story or do we become part of His grand everlasting one? Do we settle for our own catastrophe or do we join His eucatastrophe?
This Christmas, give creative license of your life back to the One who has been carefully writing the narrative from chapter one. When we make the decision to become part of eternal history, His story, He surely sees it as the greatest eucatastrophe of all.
The Baby arrived in the midst of a very special catastrophe to write you into the best plot ever written.
That’s true cause for celebration this Christmas Day!