I came to be a fan of Harry Potter late in the game; I think we only got to see the last two movies in the theatre. I was suspicious of both the insane popularity of Harry Potter, and the fact that certain religious institutions made such a big deal out of it. Because of the concerns, when my kids were getting old enough to read the series, I thought I should read all the books myself and make sure they were ok for them. I ended up being a bigger fan of Harry Potter than either of my kids.
All the books are well-written, but Rowling develops as a writer as the three main characters grow up. I read them all in succession before watching the movies and truly enjoyed the adventures that Harry and his friends get themselves into. Finally, I got to the seventh book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and found even more depth.
Magic is what made the books controversial, but the controversy is silly. Just as in Narnia or in Lord of the Rings, magic is a tool. It can be used for good or for evil, much like a hammer can be used for fixing something or for hitting someone. A hammer doesn’t have a nature in itself, and in the Harry Potter books, neither does magic. I was so disappointed that my kids’ Lutheran school would not stock the Harry Potter books in its library (despite the advocacy of the school librarian for them). Good, evil, sacrifice, redemption, love, courage…it’s all there. And in the Deathly Hallows, the Gospel is there too.
The Gospel is a little more subtle in the Deathly Hallows than in Narnia, for example, although there is the obvious sacrifice and resurrection. Harry goes to Voldemort and allows himself to be killed so that Voldemort will not kill his friends. After Harry comes back, Voldemort’s magic will not touch Harry’s friends anymore. He puts spells on them, but the spells are not binding and do not last. Voldemort himself can no longer do evil to Harry’s friends. This is grace. Jesus died on the cross for our sins. He sacrificed Himself in our stead, and now we are free. Satan cannot touch us. It’s true that we are not free from sin and the consequence of sin while on earth, but we are free from working to save ourselves. The more we try, the less we succeed. Once we realize we cannot fulfill the law, we give up trying, and then we understand grace. Our sin is forgiven, it cannot harm us eternally–it is no longer binding.
I think this is why certain books reach out to me: they remind me of God’s grace. They remind me of my loving Savior, they remind me that there is good in this world, and that there is always mercy. But it all begins and ends with God. The magic in our world is something that most people don’t even know how to look for. They think they have to climb mountains, run a marathon, become CEO, or diet and exercise to get the perfect body. But really all they need to do is go to a good church. God’s magic is there.
God’s magic is there in the water that is poured over you in your baptism, washing away your sins, making you His. Your pastor doesn’t have a magic wand, but he does have magic words: “I baptize you, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” That begins your life in grace.
Then, every week, God’s magic is in the bread and the wine that we eat and drink in the Lord’s Supper. Your pastor stands over it and says the Words of Institution, and Jesus feeds us His body and blood “in, with, and under” the bread and wine. “…This is my body…This is my blood, shed for you for the remission of sins…” By His wounds, we are healed.
And when you kneel every Sunday to beg God for forgiveness for your sins, for the crazy stuff you did last week, your pastor kneels with you and begs God for the same forgiveness himself, and then he stands up and says God’s magic words, “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” We are free.
This magic sustains your faith and nourishes you every week, so that you can go back out into the world and all of its complexities and try to do good in your vocations for your neighbor. And just when you get so weary of it all, you come back to church for more.
Real magic doesn’t look like much. Real Christians don’t look like much; most of us are barely distinguishable from non-Christians. We’re not rich or powerful or even especially wise. We don’t have $65 million private jets. Our churches are small. We just know that we’re broken, that we’re not better than anyone else, and we know where to go to be forgiven.
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 1:26-31