On January 13, 1993, a child was born unto the world. At Medical City Hospital in the city of Plano, Lanice Ragland – a strong, beautiful woman – gave birth to a precious baby boy. Me. You have a story like this as well, and like my birthday, no one will buy presents for their loved ones, erect prickling trees in their homes, carol on their neighbor’s doorstep, or hang lights on their rooftop in celebration of yours. However, there was a man named Jesus of Nazareth born of a virgin whose birthday earned the honor of being called “the” Nativity.
The significance of Jesus’ birth obviously has meaningful implications to anyone who believes in His gospel and considers themselves a disciple of His teaching. But why are people who aren’t disciples of Jesus enthralled by this story? Why decorate your fireplace mantle with figurines of a baby being born in a filthy pig-pin? There must be something special about this story that sets it apart from any other birth, or maybe it’s the story itself.
STORIES GO AFTER THE HEART
If argumentation holds the key to the mind, story wields the key to the heart. Lewis Carrol's Alice in Wonder Land proves terrible for the theory of causation, yet it remains a pleasant story for the imagination. Likewise, no one argues about the power of the Nativity story for even the most devout atheist would find it a satisfying read if they came across it in the children’s section of a bookstore.
Stories engage our passions, convictions and beliefs through our heart first, not our head. Lectures and essays shoot straight for the mind, and surely enough, it bursts. Stories first engage the sentiments to move the mind, and the heart readily surrenders to good stories especially when they are true.
JOY AND TRAGEDY
Mary – a young virgin woman in a patriarchal society – faced an intense situation which bordered delight and suspense. Mary was betrothed to a man named Joseph when an angel informed her that she would give birth to Jesus, the savior of the world. To make matters worse, King Herod, the original Grinch, also heard of the prophesy and desired to prevent the birth all-together.
In one instance, the reader confronts the immanent plausibility of tragedy and the surpassing joy of future hope, and the greatest stipulations of the tale occurs after the birth. G.K. Chesterton refers to the link between joy and tragedy present in fairy tales as "The Doctrine of Conditional Joy." He states, “All the dizzy and colossal things conceded depend upon one small thing withheld. All the wild and whirling things that are let loose depend upon one thing that is forbidden.” In order for the prophesy to be fulfilled the child had two “if” conditions: he must live a perfect life without sin in thought, motive or deed, and he must die, otherwise the whole design fails.
Sentencing the perfect protagonist to capital punishment reeks of political, theological and literary injustice. Literature would consider such a story tragic, but Christianity is a eucatastrophe. J.R.R. Tolkein, writer of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, famously coined the term eucatastrophe which describes the sudden turn of events at the end of a story when the protagonist escapes doom by a hair and justifies the story. The epic of Jesus follows this rule with unparalleled precision and mastery. Christ, the protagonist, suffers the ultimate doom and all hope dies with Him. Then, with eucatasrophic charisma, He rises from the dead, defeats evil and death, and rescues all who belong to Him from eternal soul destruction.
The dearness of the Nativity story rests on the glorious beauty and truth of the eucatasrophic ending. Our soul smiles for merely entertaining the thought of the story’s worthiness – which our heart first felt, our soul hoped, and all of our being affirmed. The story would most certainly be worthy of complete dedication and confidence, if only it were true! Then, like the unanticipated credits at the end of a sincere movie affirming it was based on a true story, the story which managed to satisfy the insatiable pining of the soul, to be fully known and fully loved by its Creator, claims to be true.
T.R. "Ty" Ragland is a husband, teacher, journalist, and graduate student at the University of Dallas studying Humanities. Ty yearns to see truth made accessible to the public sphere through all art forms. Ty is the co-founder and associate editor of The Grounds Journal.