As a first semester undergraduate, I remember being struck by the idea that a Christ figure appears in every story…Star Wars, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Pride and Prejudice, Harry Potter…. And, of course, much delightful debate must take place regarding exactly who the Christ figure is in each tale!
I recently encountered this phenomenon again, when my daughter (just over two), watched the classic “stop-animation” film, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer for the very first time.
Who was the Christ figure for her, you ask? Was it Rudolph himself? Perhaps Santa? Or even little Clarisse (Rudolph’s adolescent sweetheart)? Oh no.
For my little girl, “Big Num Num,” otherwise known as the “Abominable Snowman,” was the hero of salvific scope.
Why did my little girl gravitate toward the Abominable Snowman, the character who clearly serves as the nemesis of all Christmastown, clearly stands out as the scariest looking, and clearly was designed to terrify most small children when the T.V. special first aired in the Advent season of 1964?
A little context for understanding her logic may be helpful. The original “Num Num” is the Cookie Monster, of Sesame Street fame, and my daughter’s favorite character. When my husband and I were watching Rudolph with her, we saw her eyes widen when the Abominable Snowman made his appearance, roaring at terrified reindeer as his giant stop-animation feet plowed through snow drifts.
My husband and I looked at each other nervously. But then, my husband blurted out, “Look, it’s Big Num Num!” Immediately, our little girl’s vision changed: what had looked frightening, daunting, and unexplainable…turned on a time to become inviting, exciting, and loved.
Now when we watch the film, she’s cheering for the big hairy monster, who does, indeed, return at the end with wounds (Herbey, the dentist-elf, has removed his teeth if you recall). Big Num Num has resurrected, is changed, and is the only one who can place the shining Star at the top of the great Christmas tree, gleaming its beauty and light upon all of Christmastown’s inhabitants.
Our daughter is so excited about her newfound hero, in fact, that when we saw a display with a stuffed Abominable Snowman (at the dentist’s office, funnily enough), she told every dental technician we met that she had just seen the Big Num Num!
Just like our surprising encounter with the Abominable Snowman, Advent time prepares us for the Incarnation, and prepares for the coming of the end times. Neither the Incarnation nor the end times involve the bright and shiny Savior we expect. Oh no. The Christ figure comes from a background of little means. The Christ figure challenges traditional authorities and traditional heroes. Jesus, the Christ figure, challenges us.
Like Big Num Num, Jesus’ step and resounding voice cause people to run and hide, ignoring his message and avoiding his very being. Indeed, society tells us to cheer for the demise of the Big Num Num, to rejoice in his failure, to mock and spit upon him.
But the wisdom of the child sees beyond the hairy blue face, or working class carpenter. The child’s eyes can see a Savior—one whose coming causes hearts to tremble with great joy, and mouths to proclaim his goodness to all.
As the Nativity of Our Lord fast approaches, may we, too, see our Savior’s face in unexpected places—and joyfully spread the good news to others.