A few nights before Christmas, Daniel and I snuggled down to watch that holiday classic Thor: The God of Thunder. (I’d post a spoiler-alert at this juncture, but I don’t think your viewing experience will be devastated by the following plot-revelations.)
Odin, the Allfather god, expels his son Thor from Asgard for picking a fight instead of choosing peace. Thor lands in New Mexico, stripped of his hammer, which contains his power. Odin breathes on the hammer, binding it so that Thor will only be able to reclaim it after he’s proven himself worthy. Then Odin hurls the hammer into New Mexico, too.
Based on pre-Christian Norse mythology, Thor-the-movie offers little to recommend it to Christmas. Odin’s breath marks the hammer with a trinity knot, which might be taken as a Christian symbol, but is more likely a valknut, meaning “slain warrior knot.” Valknuts are associated with Odin’s binding powers.
Also, Thor sacrifices himself so that his fellow gods and his new human friends will live. His self-sacrifice releases the hammer and resurrects Thor. This might be the Christian portion of the movie. The Norse mythological version involves the redemption of an alternate son of Odin (Balder) from the shadow world, but not Thor and not for atonement.
Other than that, Thor-the-movie afforded my minister husband a much-needed Christmas nap and myself a chance to work on some Christmas cross-stitch.
Thor-the-myth was honored in the Yule or “wheel” month, when the longest night of the year gives way to the spinning wheel of sun. Celebrating Yule involved feasting on a boar’s head, a sacred dish also called the “boar of atonement” because the patriarch of each family placed his hands on the food and swore faithfulness to his family and his obligations. His act stood for a similar promise from all present at the feast.
Christian missionaries saw the parallels and exploited them. They had less use for the Yule practice of binding straw to an old wagon wheel, lighting it on fire, and rolling the flaming circle down a mountain.
Thor and Mary
After the movie, Daniel came down with stomach flu and it snowed some more. (We do not live in New Mexico.) So, while he hurled, I shoveled. To be exact, I scratched packed snow off the concrete like picking an old scab.
It took a while. I had time to contemplate the redemptive qualities of the movie. That took a while, too.
I decided the sheer physicality of hand-to-hammer combat probably appealed to masculine viewers. Thor reduced to a human still overmastered his enemies with no other weapon than himself. The sheer physicality of Thor without his shirt on probably had something to do with female viewings. Chris Hemsworth’s body served well in the role of Thor.
By the time Daniel was done, his whole frame ached with the strain as well as the fever. Expelling a virus is the hard work of an otherwise healthy body.
By the time I was done, my muscles ached, too. Successfully scraping the driveway was oddly reminiscent of (gentlemen, turn away) a good latch after a week of feeding-bruises and chapping.
It’s this human physicality that makes Thor a Christmas movie.
Mary birthed Jesus, one of the messiest, most painful, life-giving functions any body ever performs. And God, who made this flesh, took this flesh as his own. Human Jesus nursed at his mother’s breast, puked out the stomach flu, accidentally hammered his finger in Joseph’s workshop, and died the slow death of an otherwise healthy body.
Like Thor, Jesus came to earth to learn obedience through human suffering, though unlike Thor he was not being punished for arrogant disobedience. And because Jesus learned obedience through physical discipline, so too our attempts to obey are redeemed (Heb 5:8–9).
And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name (Phil 2:8–9 RSV).