Christmas, Tales, and the Ethics of Elfland

There is great news for our world: We still love Christmas. From our earliest years, like our parents before us, like their parents before them, we’ve been formed to cherish this Season. It is special. Magical.

Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth

Yet, is the measure of our soul’s worth meant to be like so many decorations, pulled from some dark, remote corner of the house, showcased for a couple weeks, only to be returned?

Perhaps we’ve reduced Christmas to something of an ornament. The stuff of make believe. A fairy tale.

There is an irony here. The fairy tale aspect of Christmas is essential to our authentic belief in Jesus Christ Himself. Diminishing or disregarding this quality may reveal us to be doing the same to Jesus Christ Himself.

In his book Orthodoxy Chesterton discusses “Ethics in Elfland.” He masterfully illustrates the power and purpose of magical stories and fairy tales. These dispose us to divine truth. Such stories imply a “story teller”, a designer who created all things for a purpose. We find ourselves in these stories. We find ourselves given to a sense of wonder, which is to say, to the Wonderful.

Christmas is meant to be a permanent collision of heaven and earth. Of faith and reason. Of extraordinary and ordinary. Of God and man.

Through the door of Christmas we find ourselves freed from enslaving, crippling, limiting captivity of self, to the vast, majestic, wondrous horizon of Other.

Fairy tales dispose us to this horizon of truth, precisely because they demand that we release our white knuckles clinging to what we can control. To what we think we know. Fairy tales demand a kind of surrender of things that can not be strictly proven. And yet, marvelously, we find ourselves assenting to the mystery and wonder of what we all regard as true. Which is to say, of a Someone who made it so.

He knows if you’ve been good or bad, so be good, or goodness sake!

Only a madman cheers for the Wicked Witch, or Sauron, or Hitler, or Satan. No, we cheer for the hero. Which is to say, we acknowledge universal attributes of the hero. We cheer the self-sacrificing love of Beauty’s Beast, or Samwise Gamgee, or the first responders who rushed into the Twin Towers… or Jesus Christ.

So what, exactly, are the Ethics in Elfland? Why are they important?

We need to begin thinking again about right and wrong in the same way we think about a road. John the Baptist suggested such a Road in calling us to prepare the way. God revealed this Road throughout Salvation History. In the fullness of time, God took on flesh and blood and became the Road. He, this Road, remains with us in His Church.

Given this Road we are free to choose to either stay within the lines in the Right, or we can run into the berms and do what’s Wrong. If we do what’s Wrong, we get smashed. We get hurt. Because Right and Wrong are concrete. They are objective. They are not constituted by our opinion, or what we feel, or what we think. They are our God-made design. They correspond to our human nature.  We did not make them; they make us. Rejecting them is rejecting ourselves. They are revealed for the good of our human nature.

As Charlton Heston pronounced as Moses, “You can’t break the law. You can only break yourself against the law.” This is historically validated in every biography ever written.

Our highest priority as parents is to form our children’s consciences for this truth; to equip them with all the virtue to choose this truth, over and against what they may feel.

This means to help our children understand that if we do not master our desires, our desires will master us.

Advent is an opportunity for us to more deeply enter into our own, epic, ultimate drama. It’s an opportunity for us to more fully prepare the way. (Mark 1:3) To recognize the Road and the lines in the Road. To get the obstructions out of the Way. To recognize Right and Wrong, and be more truly oriented to Right.

Here’s some concrete paving our Road:

Above all else, God desires intimacy with us.

Not going to church on Sunday is wrong. Not seeking a life of prayer is wrong. Not seeking to intentionally make our homes cultures of encounter is wrong. Neglect or rejection of seeking to live in His truth in any respect is wrong.

Sexuality is an occasion to participate in and make God (Love) known.

Lust, in thought or action, porn, adultery, gay, heterosexual or any other sexual activity outside of sacramental marriage is wrong. Contraception, literally meaning “against (God who is) life,” is wrong.

Life is sacred.

As with all murder, abortion is wrong. Chemical abuse of any kind is wrong. Neglect or disregard of our’s or other’s bodies in any way is wrong.

Holy communion corresponds to holy community. There is a right order to relationship. 

Stealing, cheating and selfishness are wrong. Arrogance, bitterness, contempt, hatred and envy are wrong. Gossiping, lying, disparaging, detracting are wrong. Using of others in any way is wrong.

Holy hearts are eucharistic: We are fashioned to have attitudes of gratitude.

Entitlement and taking for granted are wrong.

We have all chosen wrong.

More than simply doing wrong, parts of us are wired for wrong. As such, we are smashed. Hurt. Broken. To know this is a great gift! The opportunity to repent (“to turn”) and seek God’s grace! For without sin we have no need for a Savior! And without a Savior… Christmas, or Christ’s Mass, is little more than a masquerade.

Join me in praying:

LORD JESUS, thank You for revealing the Road! We confess that we are sinners! We have chosen against You! Against the great good of our nature in You! Flood us with Your Holy Spirit! Help us recognize our sin… in great and small ways, that we would seek You, our Savior! We turn to You! We seek your transforming grace! Restore us unto You! (Rom. 12:1-2) And draw us more deeply into the majesty and wonder of Christ’s Mass!

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices!


Greg Schlueter is an award-winning film producer, writer, speaker and movement leader. He is President / CEO of Mass Impact (Image Trinity), which is committed to personal, family and parish transformation: “Not another program, a way of life in Jesus Christ.” ( Greg lives with his wife and six children in Toledo, Ohio.

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage