During the liturgical season of Advent this year, I have been reading and exploring myths about heroes. Hercules, Ulysses, Superman, Frodo Baggins, Mary, mother of Jesus, Luke Skywalker, Jack and the Beanstalk, and even Santa Claus make up a few of the many ancient and contemporary hero myths that comprise our understandings of who and what a hero is.
Curiously, there has been little attention given to Jesus Christ as a hero. A few brave scholars and writers have ventured into this territory but with little attention or appreciation from Christian faithful. Perhaps we as people of faith are a bit uncomfortable with the notion that our God might be lowered into the ranks of Xena the Warrior Princess. Perhaps we prefer to believe that the Biblical portrayal of Jesus’ divinity is compromised or tarnished when it is seen merely as another expression of the human psyche’s need for a hero figure.
However what is a hero if not a savior? Jesus fits all of the archetypal forms of the hero. He is the product of a virgin birth; he vanishes in the midst of his childhood and returns as an adult through a mystical initiation in the Jordan River; he is tempted by his enemy; he possesses what seem to be “superpowers;” he has help from friends along the way; and he overcomes death in order to save others.
Those who study mythology and particularly hero mythologies say that the human psyche seeks out heroes in the various aspects of our lives. That is what we are doing in the season of Advent. After all, Advent is a season about the hope and anticipation we place in the birth/return of Christ. By doing so, we relive the myth of our hero’s return every year in the liturgical rituals and symbols of Advent.
Every hero goes away and returns. This is a baseline qualification for the mythic hero. However, I think we often confuse the Advent season for our children (and perhaps ourselves) by anticipating the return of a different hero: Santa Claus. At Easter, when we are anticipating the return (resurrection) of Christ, we do it again by emphasizing another secular hero, the Easter Bunny. We really cannot help ourselves. Santa and the Easter Bunny somehow represent much more tangible forms of heroism because they bring tangible results – Christmas gifts and Easter baskets. We are hard pressed as people of faith to find real results in the celebrated return(s) of Christ at Christmas and Easter when we look out at a chaotic world that seems to be crumbling around us!
However there is another side of the hero myth that betrays us. All mythical heroes are just that: myths. While the power of our myths are real in their effect on our attitudes and perspectives, the figures themselves are merely figments of our imaginations. Superman has no real power to save Metropolis, and Batman has no real power to save Gotham City. The real heroes of our lives are the moms and dads, uncles and aunts, civil servants, civic leaders, pastors, volunteers, and strangers on the street who are not super heroes but are broken, hurting people just like ourselves and yet are empowered with the “superpower” to engage us authentically everyday. That is the radical insistence of Biblical faith: God reveals God's self through shattered, not whole, people!
Jesus says that the greatest commandments are love your God and love your neighbor. I believe that authentic, compassionate relationships are the best that we can hope for as people of faith and that through relationships God will achieve peace on earth. Jesus Christ, who really lived, really died, and really resurrected unlike our other mythic heroes, is made manifest in our relationships and thus returns to the world again and again and again.
This Advent season I am aware that as a Christian I choose Jesus as my hero and place my hope for peace on earth in Christ’s heroic return in my everyday life.