Day 1: Hero
Beneath the Tangles seems to have slipped into an inadvertent biennial tradition of writing about Sword Art Online‘s Christmas episode (the third episode of the series). Others wrote about it two years and four years ago, respectively, and now I want to take a turn at it.
I’m sure you already know the plot: protagonist Kirito joins the Black Cats guild, but then the rest of the group gets tragically wiped out in an ambush, leaving Kirito alone again. The story skips ahead to the following Christmas Eve, when a special event boss, Nicholas the Renegade, is set to appear. Rumor has it that this boss will drop an item that can restore the dead. To make sure he gets the rare item drop, Kirito soloes the boss.
And it turns out the special item only works within ten seconds of a person’s death; it’s far too late to bring back his lost guildmates. Later, a depressed Kirito receives a Christmas message from his deceased friend Sachi, programmed back before she died to be delivered come Christmas. She predicts that she’ll be dead and Kirito will feel responsible, encourages him that this is not the case, and urges, “So even if I die, you keep living, okay?”
Ten-second revival items and prerecorded messages are small ways to cheat death, but that’s not what Kirito really desires. What Kirito seeks in this story is nothing less than resurrection of the dead. And a Christmas episode is an excellent setting for talking about resurrection. After all, at Christmas, we are spurred to reflect not merely on the fact of Jesus’ coming to earth, but why he did so. As Zechariah puts it after John’s birth, the messiah was going to bring:
“The tender mercy of our God,
With which the sunrise from on high will visit us,
To shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.”
Like Sachi, we are trapped in a game of death. Like Sachi, we wonder what the point of all this world’s suffering is. Fortunately, while Kirito is a great hero, he’s only a pale imitation of the greatest hero of all. Like Kirito in this episode, Jesus soloed a ferocious boss, but he succeeded where Kirito failed. Jesus came into this world and defeated not just any monster, but death itself, so that we might have hope of resurrection. Hope that sin and pain and death can be overcome. Hope that there is meaning to our lives.
“There are lots of players like you who are afraid of dying. But they still laugh, cry, and live, as best they can in this world,” Kirito says. But why? Why live as best we can in this game of death? Christmas points us toward the answer: the coming of Jesus Christ. We can rejoice because thousands of years ago, a hero came to save us. He died on a cross, rose from the dead on the third day, and appeared to witnesses. Thanks to that, we can face this life knowing that someday, we too will rise again.