Friday, October 12, 2018

Christ in the Nightmare Before Christmas

The Nightmare Before Christmas was always one of my favorite movies. Jack Skellington longs for something more, something he can't find in Halloween, something new, something different. He is just a skeleton, and he longs for life. He is empty, but he longs for fullness. So he goes into the wilderness, into the periphery, into the Underworld, and he finds a tree, a tree with a Christmas sign on it. And as he falls into it, he discovers exactly what he had always longed for.

Christmas is what we all long for, really. Christmas is what's real, the time when men open their shut-up hearts freely and give without restraint. Christmas is being free of oneself, being free of the burden of being oneself, of looking only to the other, of letting the other be born in you, of receiving the gift of the other. We are not the point, after all. We are just a frame, a canvas, where the other can be revealed, where the ultimate other, the ultimate point, God, can reveal himself, where he can be born in us, in our manger. We are skeletons, not the flesh, not the heart, not Christmas. Christmas is born in our ribcage, but we are not what is born. What is born is Christ, and Christmas is the gift of Christ, the grace of Christ, his birth and rebirth in us perpetually, the link of love that binds us together.

But we cling to it, like Jack Skellington. This year, we say, Christmas will be ours. And we ruin it. We clutch onto it with our bony fingers, we cling, we say "mine!," and the gifts no longer give. The bread of life, God's mess of pottage, we claim as our own. The flow is dammed. The son of man has nowhere to lay his head. But God is relentless. Though we have held Santa Claus captive, though we have appropriated what can never be ours, he will exaggerate our grasp until we can't hold on anymore. Until we give up. Until we say "God, I can't do it anymore. Take over. I will just be a skeleton, forever and ever. I am not You." And then we realize that "Yes, I am a skeleton! I am my body and its poverty. We humble ourselves. We don't raise our ambitions to God's throne, to Santa's sleigh. We become dust.

And in that moment, everything changes. No longer trying to capture Christmas, no longer appropriating, skeletonizing it, Christmas comes for the very first time. Christmas is a gift, after all, and gifts can never be demanded, never captured. Christ, the ultimate gift, is born in our hearts. Flesh begins to grow on our skeleton, a flesh that we aren't, God's flesh, on our skeleton. We are remade in His image. His face becomes ours. And though we have died, because we have admitted that we are nothing but death ourselves, we are reborn. We are resurrected. We fall upon God's neck, weeping. Christ is born. And Christ never stops being born.

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