If you’re not familiar with the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale, The Elves, I recommend clicking here to read part III of the story before proceeding to my commentary.
It’s no surprise that Baptism is the theme in part III of The Elves. The tale is a threefold expression of the Sacrament. One might wonder why the elves, those splendid creatures who live in the heavenly mountains (see part II), would take a child out of his cradle and away from his mother only to bring him back again after a changeling laid in his place. What’s the point?
Isn’t it obvious?
Notice the pattern: child, changeling, child. Or to state it another way: new, old, new again. Add in the care of a neighbor (Christians are called to love their neighbor, Matthew 22:36-40; Romans 15:2; Galatians 5:13-14, 6:2), water, and the fire that boils it (Matt. 3:11), and, well, what we have is the story of Baptism.
Consider the second definition of the pattern above (new, old, new again). Is this not the story of man? When God created us, He made us new creatures, created in His image, made without sin (Genesis 1:26-28). But, like a child taken away from his mother, we sinned (Gen. 3:1-7). We were removed from our cradle, from the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:23-24) “and a changeling with a large head and staring eyes” – a sinner – took the place of God’s perfect creation.
Think about this changeling for a minute. Is it not a precise description of sinful man? “A large head and staring eyes” pretty much nails it. We’re big headed with the knowledge of good and evil, idolatry swelling our noggins as we long to be like God (Gen. 3:5). And how about those “staring eyes”? Oh yes indeed:
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise (or shall we say big headed?), she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked… (Gen. 3:6-7) [Emphasis mine]
We all contend with this changeling, the sinner within who would gladly lay in our place, enjoying the provisions (eating and drinking) God intended for His children. Like Grimm’s changeling who laughs at boiling water in egg shells and says, “I am as old now as the Wester forest,” the sinner within each of us is an old man (Rom. 6:6; Ephesians 2:15, 4:22; Colossians 3:9). But after the waters of holy baptism, the new is restored. We’re returned to how God intended us to be, each of us a child in His care (Eph. 4:23-24; Col. 3:10). Child, changeling, child. We’re created in God’s image, His children. Then because of sin we’re changed into something else, an imposter masquerading as a child. But God, through Baptism into Christ, ends the time of the old changeling, just like the neighbor said, “all would be over with him” as we, the children of God, are restored to our rightful place, “set down on the hearth,” home once again.
The next Finding Truth in The Story will be on Fair Katrinelje and Pif-Paf-Poltrie. Click here to read the fairy tale in advance.
I’m reading the fairly tales from the Fall River Press publication, Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales illustrated by Arthur Rackham. Click here to purchase a copy for yourself.
© Tyrel Bramwell, 2010 – 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of material on this website without express and written permission from this website’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Tyrel Bramwell or with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.