The Hobbit and God's Christmas Battle Plan

Luke 2:1-14

A book that has captured imaginations for over a generation is The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien was an active Catholic and that the story has many Christian themes. The Hobbit has recently been made into an incredibly popular series of three films. The second installment just came out. In the first movie, The Unexpected Journey, we see how Gandalf, a good wizard, helps form a group to send an important quest to liberate a land from an oppressive dragon. This group is almost entirely made out of strong dwarves who are proven warriors. There is one noticeable exception. Gandalf insists on including in the quest one hobbit, Bilbo Baggins. This decision is shockingly unexpected and the dwarves are opposed. How could this weak hobbit help defeat the evil dragon? It seems to go against all proper logic for waging war. But Gandalf, for reasons I will explain later, stands by his decision. He sees a power in Bilbo that the others do not. This scene seems to be a great analogy for what is happening at Christmas. Often the story of Christmas seems too familiar, too comfortable. However, when we stop and think about it Christmas too is a shockingly unexpected strategy of God. Let us look closer at this metaphor from The Hobbit. We’ll begin with the dragon.

Jesus was born into an oppressed world. Christ entered a world that was under siege by the enemy.  When Jesus was born some 2000 years ago in Bethlehem, there was a certain world power that was an obvious “dragon”: the Roman Empire. That fact that the people of Israel were under Roman oppression is found in the story of Jesus’ birth. Because in Rome Caesar demanded a census, Mary and Joseph were forced to travel to Bethlehem to be counted. The Jewish people were expecting a saviour, or messiah, to come and rescue them from this tyranny. This saviour was supposed to be a political or military leader who would forcibly cast off Rome’s yolk and re-establish an independent nation of Israel. Today also, as Jesus is born anew this Christmas, He comes into a world with its fair share of dragons that terrorize humanity: war, crime, oppression, inequality and poverty. Most importantly, whether it be today or 200 years ago, here in Richmond or in Bethlehem, Jesus also comes to liberate our hearts from certain dragons that lay siege to our soul: pride, selfishness, loneliness, greed and envy. Jesus always comes into a world that is oppressed and in need of liberation.

God’s way of doing battle is completely different than we expect. Deep down, we all probably think much like the dwarves from the Hobbit. They believe that the way to beat the dragon is to get together the strongest, most powerful group of people. You need to fight fire with fire. But God’s way of thinking is much different. God could have entered the world as a powerful political or military ruler, but He did not. If we want to know God’s battle plan we need only look to two places. First, we can look at the manger. What do we see there? We see a poor baby who had to be born among animals because there was no room in the inn. We see incredible humility. We see a boy who will grow up to spend His time serving, healing and reconciling those who are on the margins of society: tax collectors, sinners, lepers and prostitutes. The second place we need to look if we want to know God’s battle plan is the Cross. There we learn that Jesus chose to destroy evil not through more violence or political machinations but through self-sacrifice. From the Cross we learn that you do not fight fire with fire. Evil is only defeated through love. This is revolutionary. God’s way of doing battle is completely not what we expect.

Because Jesus’ way of doing things in so unexpected, we can easily miss Him. Remember that the dwarves wanted nothing to do with Bilbo because he didn’t meet their expectations of a warrior. They overlooked the power in him that Gandalf could see.  Likewise, since Jesus’ way of battling evil is so revolutionary, we risk ignoring Him in our life. 2000 years ago so many people did not recognize Jesus for who He was. Before He was even born, Jesus was turned away from the inn. The powerful do not come to visit the new-born Jesus, but only the simple shepherds. Later when Jesus grew up and began His ministry and teaching He was rejected by so many people. Why? He simple did not fit the bill of how God should go about conquering evil in the world. Likewise, in our own life too we risk letting Jesus pass us by, failing to recognize His power. We can ask ourselves a few questions. Are we trying to make Jesus the center of our lives because we think He alone can save us, or is something else taking His place? Is this reflected by the time we put into cultivating a relationship with Christ through prayer and going to Mass? Or, are we trying to fill our hearts with what we think might be more satisfying, such as possessions and entertainment? We could also ask ourselves if our life shows that we are trying to continue Jesus’ mission, His way of battling the dragons in this world. Are we striving to live with deeper humility, service, love, mercy and forgiveness? Or, do we following another strategy, seeking to become more powerful, wealthy and popular? Regardless of time or place, people have always risked missing or ignoring Jesus.

Christmas is a wonderful opportunity to deepen our commitment to Christ and His mission. Today is an incredible chance to renew our desire to follow Jesus and not let Him pass us by. Our current Holy Father, Pope Francis, is a powerful example who can encourage us to do this. Many of you will know that Pope Francis was recently named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year. This reflects how his words and gestures have captured attention among Catholics and non-Catholics alike. But how does a 77 year old man - with only one functioning lung - exert such an influence? The answer, quite simply, is that he is someone who has not allowed Jesus and His message to pass him by. Throughout his life, Pope Francis has welcomed Christ more and more into his heart. He has said that his deepest identity is that of a sinner in desperate need of Jesus the Saviour. Through prayer, Mass, the other sacraments and reading the Scriptures he centers his life around Christ. Flowing from this, Pope Francis has committed himself to continuing the mission, or battle-plan, of Jesus for fighting the dragons in this world. Through his words and gestures he has shown the power of mercy, love, forgiveness, humility and service. He has washed the feet of convicts in a prison. He traveled to a remote island in the Mediterranean Sea in order to celebrate Mass for African migrants. He has boldly spoken out against war and global financial inequality. His example is a great challenge and encouragement to deepen our commitment to Jesus and His mission this Christmas.

At a certain moment in the movie The Hobbit, Gandalf defends his choice of making Bilbo a member of the group sent to conquer the dragon. He explains that while others believe “it is only great power that can hold evil in check”, that is not what he has found. Gandalf says he has found that “it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay”. With the help of Jesus, let us be numbered among these “ordinary folk”. Today let us choose one way to deepen our commitment to Jesus and His mission. Maybe it is to pray or go to Mass, to serve in a new way your parish or community or to forgive someone who has wronged you. Let us choose one concrete action. Perhaps we can make this our Christmas gift for Jesus.