I love sappy Christmas movies; I look forward to this time of year, to putting up my tree and watching movies that I know will have a happy ending. This year, amid a global pandemic, political strife, economic downturn, and more, that happy ending is particularly appealing.
For those of you who are not familiar with the Christmas movie genre (especially those from Hallmark in the US) let me give you a brief synopsis . . .
The hero and heroine are good looking and young. One of them is enslaved to their work and has an anti-Christmas attitude. The other one is really into Christmas. Christmas, of course, means family-centred holiday activities, Christmas trees, and snow - a lot of snow.
The plot often involves the anti-Christmas hero/heroine being waylaid in a magical Christmas destination where they meet their leading lady or man. In this magical place (most often a small town) there are lots of family and snow-centred Christmas activities. Participation in these activities with their hero or heroine results in the transformation of the workaholic protagonist into a warm-hearted, Christmas-loving person. In the meantime, the hero and heroine are falling in love, but their attitudes to work and Christmas are obstacles that threaten to thwart their romance. The movie ends with everyone in love with Christmas and the hero and heroine able to enjoy their Happily Ever After - as signified by their one and only kiss.
Recently, I was reflecting on the similarities between the Christmas movies I was watching, and I realised that they feel familiar because they all are in some way paying homage to the Charles Dickens novella “A Christmas Carol.” Dickens' classic tale tells the story of Scrooge a “squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner” who is transformed by his interaction with the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future. In recognising the true nature of Christmas (according to Dickens), Scrooge is transformed into a generous, loving man, and his life changes completely.
The idea that Christmas is a time of magical transformation is at the heart of many Christmas movies. The Christmas movie genre appeals to us, in part, because it calls to our longing for the redemption of the world. We long for transformation, for greed to be replaced with generosity, self-centredness with other-centred-ness, and sorrow with joy. We long for families to be reunited and those who are alone to find belonging. We are longing for God’s kingdom to come!
The wonderful thing is that as a follower of Jesus I know God’s kingdom has come - in Jesus. The real magic of Christmas is that God transformed himself into human form, was placed in the womb of a young Jewish girl, and born into the world a helpless babe. He then grew up as a regular boy and learned to obey as a human, he faced the same kinds of temptations to sin we face and yet remained sinless. And then, he gave up his life, taking our place on the cross so that we could be redeemed and transformed.
This last part is critical. Without Jesus’ paying the price for our sin on the cross, these Christmas transformations are just the efforts of man because none of them solves the problem of sin.
Scrooge may have become a more pleasant man as he recognised the ultimate outcome of his evils ways and turned from them, but he was still a sinner - just a nice one. Scrooge, like all of us, needed to recognise that Jesus is the solution to the sin of the world.
One of the other appeals of the Christmas movies for me is that the transformation happens through the Scrooge-like character's participation in a series of Christmas activities. As they sing carols, drink hot chocolate, bake cookies and have fun, they learn about themselves and Christmas. They also learn to celebrate and to rest, all of which result in transformation.
As an educator, this is a really familiar dynamic for me. I spend my life designing learning activities so that people will learn and grow. As a Christian, I know that God has already decided that we will be transformed to be like Jesus (Romans 8:29). This transformation happens as we engage with God, his word, his people, and his world, and as we respond to the Spirit’s call to make room in our lives for Jesus. In other words, it happens as we engage in activities that create space for God to be at work.
Part of my own love for the Christmas season is the fact that there are lots of opportunities for me to create space for God to be at work in my life. Carols, Christmas Trees, Advent devotions, Christmas parties, writing cards and shopping for gifts are all opportunities for me to stop and remember who God is and what He has done in my life and to invite Him to make me more like Jesus.
This year, as we seek to celebrate without many of the familiar Christmas routines, we have an opportunity to try new things that haven’t been part of our Christmas practices before. Whether it is finding God’s call to transformation in a sappy Christmas movie or celebrating Advent with your family for the first time. This Christmas is an opportunity to allow God’s transforming work to happen wherever you are.