What Could MacBeth, Marvel, and the Messiah in a Manger Possibly Have in Common?
Updated: Jan 4
If you are a fan of the Marvel movies, then you know that up until his death, each movie installation in the series contained at least one Stan Lee cameo.
Stan Lee is widely regarded as the creator of the vast majority of what is called the Marvel Universe – including such well-known characters as Spider-man, Iron Man, Thor, the Incredible Hulk, and Black Panther.
So in each movie installation of what we call the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Stan Lee would make an appearance as a delivery driver, a pickup truck driver, a security guard, and more.
But there is one appearance in particular that rocked the Marvel world. The 2019 movie “Captain Marvel,” takes place in California in the 1990s, and in it we see Stan Lee’s character on a subway train reading and reciting lines from a movie script.
The reason this is significant is because the movie script he is reading is from an obscure 1990s film called “Mallrats,” a movie in which Stan Lee made another cameo appearance - as himself, Stan Lee.
Which meant for Marvel fans watching Captain Marvel, the Stan Lee cameo wasn’t simply a cameo – it was him playing himself.
The creator of the Marvel Universe and the large majority of its characters had become a part of the universe.
Marvel fans who thought hard about this had their minds blown by the apparent paradox. One article asked the question that many were thinking, “how could Stan Lee walk around in a world that is home to his own creations?” How, exactly, does that work??
In similar way, C.S. Lewis talked about the works of Shakespeare. In his book “Surprised by Joy,” Lewis alluded to an encounter between Hamlet and Shakespeare:
“If Shakespeare and Hamlet could ever meet,” he said, “it must be Shakespeare’s doing. Hamlet could initiate nothing.”
He would go on to say:
“Shakespeare could, in principle, make himself appear as Author within the play, and write a dialogue between Hamlet and himself. The 'Shakespeare' within the play would of course be at once Shakespeare and one of Shakespeare’s creatures. It would bear some analogy to the Incarnation (of Jesus).” (emphasis mine)
Lewis expounded on this idea a few years later when the Russian Cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, came back from space and was quoted as saying that he had not seen God (this is debated now, as Gagarin was a baptized member of the Russian Orthodox Church, but it was attributed to Gagarin at the time). Show Magazine asked Lewis to write a response to this, which resulted in the essay they published, called “The Seeing Eye.”
The basic premise was this: One shouldn’t expect to be able to look around space, or earth, and see God any more than Hamlet or Lady Macbeth should expect to be able to look around their worlds and see Shakespeare.
Or, to go back to our earlier analogy, the creations of Stan Lee should not expect to actually encounter Stan Lee in their world, even though they are living in the world Stan Lee created. When Captain Marvel, looking for an alien life form, spots Stan Lee, she gives him a wry smile. For a moment, she suspends the search that she is on... perhaps due, at least in part, to the fact that she is looking her creator in the eye.
So, let’s clear this up. If one had a “seeing eye” as Lewis talks about, then certainly they would be able to look around and figure that the world in which Hamlet lived, or where our Marvel characters live, was the creation of someone.
But even with this "seeing eye," -- and although Shakespeare and Lee were everywhere (and nowhere) at once -- Hamlet, Captain Marvel, and their companions would not know who the world they were in was created by unless the creator wrote himself into the script.
Despite living in a world created by Shakespeare/Lee, and themselves being characters created by Shakespeare/Lee, the only way Hamlet, Lady MacBeth, or Captain Marvel could expect to encounter their creators is if Shakespeare and Lee each became one of their own creations.
And whether Yuri Gagarin “saw God” or not in space, or whether we see God or not here on earth, is beside the point – it depends on how we choose to see. We can choose to see God everywhere, or choose to see him nowhere. But even that option is limited.
That is, until God himself takes on the nature of his creation.
And there, we have the message of Scripture, and the great passage about the Incarnation (from the Latin in carne, literally, the “in the flesh-ness”) of Jesus in John Chapter 1. John gives two nods of this very notion – the first is in v. 10 – that Jesus “was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.” And we also see this idea conveyed in v. 14 – “The Word, (that is, Jesus) became flesh, and made his dwelling among us.”
We read about the arrival of Jesus every year at Christmastime, and because it has become a part of our annual traditions, I think it sometimes fails to capture our imagination at
...such a claim is. That the God who created all of this, and all of us, came to his creation in the person of Jesus.
These examples from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and from C. S. Lewis and Shakespeare, help us see the mind-boggling nature of this idea.
Perhaps you don’t care much about Marvel comics or Shakespeare, but the idea that the God who is Creator would come and live among the created is something at which we should… marvel.
And it is something about which the New Testament writers called, “Good News.” Jesus came, and he came not only to give us a better life, not just to take us to heaven when we die, but he came so that we may know God. That we, like Captain Marvel, might look with a smile into the eyes of God.
The God who created all of this, and who created all of us.
And the God who we celebrate entering our world -- the Creator becoming the created -- every year this very night.
This is good news, indeed.
And I hope it is something which makes you marvel.
Merry Christmas, friends.
Note: If you want to explore this idea further, see this video on YouTube for more.