ON FAITH: small handsMany are familiar with “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, written by JRR Tolkien, either through reading the books, seeing the movies, or both. But not everyone may realize that Tolkien was a devout Christian, and his faith helped to shape his writings.
By: Pastor Susan Berge, Knife River Lutheran Church, Lake County News Chronicle
Many are familiar with “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, written by JRR Tolkien, either through reading the books, seeing the movies, or both. But not everyone may realize that Tolkien was a devout Christian, and his faith helped to shape his writings. If you’ve read the trilogy, you know it’s a massive work, and so it must have been a challenge for Tolkien to describe the underlying theme of the books in just a few words. Yet, when asked this question, Tolkien had a ready response. He replied, “Small hands turn the big wheels of the world, while the great are looking elsewhere.”
I was struck by this comment, because it does indeed reflect the spirit of “The Lord of the Rings,” where a small, unimportant hobbit will save the world while the larger figures of that fantasy world are occupied in power struggles that ultimately don’t matter. But, the quote also reflects the Spirit of our Christian faith, as Tolkien intended. God generally uses the “small hands” of our world to accomplish great things, while those whom the world deems to be powerful and important are caught up in matters that will have little lasting significance.
This may be most clearly epitomized in Christmas, where we see that the birth of child into a poor family in an occupied country is the event that monumentally changes the world. Those who seem to be powerful and great—King Herod, the Jewish High Priests, Caesar, the Roman Guard, and so on—will have no lasting impact at all when compared to the powerful changes that will be wrought through the birth of this child, this Christ. The baby in the manger most certainly had small hands, but those hands would re-shape the world. The point of Christmas is that small hands can and do turn the world upside-down.
Anyone who has ever spent any amount of time with a newborn knows the truth of this statement. Though diminutive, a newborn easily rules the household. All others’ schedules are put on hold or re-arranged to allow for the care of the infant. Sleep is lost, free time becomes a thing of the past, and rarely is an entire meal consumed in one sitting. Interruptions become the norm, and a single cry can disrupt the grandest plans. Any new life has a surprisingly huge and profound impact on those around it. Nowhere is that as true as in the Christmas event, where Incarnation is the holy mystery of God taking on flesh in a human baby. That baby will stand the world on its head when all is said and done. Small hands can move big wheels.
Each Advent we face the challenge of filtering out much of the cultural “white noise” around us in an effort to focus on what is meaningful in this season. There are plenty of distractions and lots of Big happening all around us: Big parties, Big events, Big purchases, Big meals. Perhaps this might be a year to instead think Small. This Advent season, I’m going to try to live with an awareness of the “small hands” in our world and of the ways God uses those hands, including our own, to accomplish God’s will. Rather than being overwhelmed or irritated by the typical Christmas season frenzy and hype, I will try instead to focus on the good that God does through small hands—even, and especially, at Christmas.
Pastor Susan serves at Knife River Lutheran Church, and Advent is her favorite season of the year. She lives in Duluth with her husband, Pastor Phil Berge.