As the family gathers on the snow-covered lawn, the extension cord is plugged in and the every-one stands in awe of the 25,000 imported Italian twinkle lights that are now lit up and covering every square inch of the house. Clark Griswold goes around and hugs each family member and sentimentally says to his father, “You taught me everything I know about exterior illumination.” I must admit, I have a borderline unhealthy obsession with Christmas movies. I unashamedly quote them all year long. I’m not sure where this love of Christmas movies first came from but I’m sure I can credit my own dad for teaching me everything I know about quoting movies.
For me Christmas movies are one way I prepare and enjoy the season of Advent and joy-fully anticipate the birth of Christ. If you even remotely like Christmas movies too I’m sure you enjoy them because they tend to be heartwarming and full of Christmas songs, decorations and lights. Perhaps we also enjoy them because there always seems to be a resolution of the problem that arose in the movie. Or maybe you are not a big fan of Christmas movies because they seem too cheesy or unrealistic and that’s ok too. Picture perfect movie endings aside, I think there are more connections between Christmas movies and the scriptures of Advent than we realize. After all, these movies give us a vision of hope and joy that comes in the midst of family drama, din-ner disasters and twinkle lights that just won’t light no matter how many times we checked every bulb. And they transmit an overarching feeling of love and the Christmas spirit that transcends the current situation in which we find ourselves.
The prophet Isaiah brings a vision of hope and peace to the people of Israel in a time when their nation is in disarray. Chapter 1 of Isaiah tells of a people who have forgotten who their true master is and of a nation full of bribery, murder, sinfulness, and injustice. The prophet brings frightening judgment, then offers the vision of how God will be at work among all people and nations— all people streaming to the house of the Lord and walking in God’s paths, swords beat into plowshares and war ceases to exist.
Sounds a lot like a great movie ending. Like in It’s a Wonderful Life where the whole town and even the dreaded bank examiner gather to raise money for the main character’s failing building and loan business while singing Hark the Harold Angels Sing. Still, we cannot forget that these happy movie endings, as with the hopeful vision of Isaiah come in the midst of or on the edge of turbulent times.
It’s A Wonderful Life and White Christmas take place after World Wars amongst failing businesses, Kevin reuniting with his family after being left Home Alone comes after a neighbor-hood of burglaries. The dancing and laughter seen from the Griswold front lawn comes only after the entire Griswold old-fashioned family Christmas has been demolished by family bickering, a kidnapping, a dried out turkey, a torched Christmas tree and house ransacked by a dog and a squirrel.
With Christmas movies we usually get to witness the “happy ending,” a quick fix after a character’s sudden change of heart or events, but what Isaiah visions is a more all-encompassing and everlasting peace and joy that does not fade as the movie credits roll. We talk about Advent as a season of waiting, and friends THIS is what we are waiting for! We wait for swords to be beaten into plowshares and for people to learn war no more. We wait for rebellion, racism and division to be no more. We wait for justice and equality to prevail and all nations to come to-gether in the light of the Lord. This is what we are waiting for, but not only that we wait for the newborn king who came to fulfill the promises God the prophets visioned about. We wait for the Messiah who will usher in a kingdom of peace instead of war, community instead of division, love instead of hate.
The all-encompassing peace that will bring everyone together suggested by Isaiah could leave us disenchanted, just as with the cliche endings of Christmas movies, given the amount of tragedy and division that still exists in our society. We know that Christmas will come once again this year, Silent Night and Joy to the World will be sung and just for a moment all will feel right with the world. However, there will still be times when the world will feel cold, dark and chaotic. There will be people who go hungry or sleep out in the cold, or who continue to live in fear because their community is torn apart by war and there will be many who will be suffering, lonely or depressed this holiday season and throughout the year. There will continue to be forces that entice us to walk in darkness instead of in the light, dragging us anywhere but up to the Lord’s presence.
The good news though is that the overarching hope that God brings to us this Advent, is one that rises above all the chaos and is not dependent on our current situation, national climate, or the state of war or peace among nations. The hope Isaiah talks about is rooted God’s faithfulness, not ours, and comes in the midst of all our waywardness. The first step in bringing this vision of hope alive on earth is up to God which is very GOOD news and that is what Advent is all about. In Advent we remember the good news that the Messiah is coming. We remember how God made the first move in re-directing creation towards this vision of hope, peace, love and joy by coming to earth in the flesh to dwell among us. In Advent remember and we wait, but what should do we do while we wait?
In Christmas Vacation with Chevy Chase, disaster after disaster ransacks the family Christmas Eve dinner- from the turkey to the tree and presents. With everything in shambles, the relatives decide that it would be a good time to bow out and head home, but Clark keeps the family together. He sits the family down and reads a story to everyone around the glow of the fire-place- a moment of peace in the midst of chaos.
As we wait for Christ to come and the visions of Isaiah to be fulfilled, we could decide to head for the door and remove ourselves from the dark chaos. But knowing that our God is one who loved the world enough to come in human form and dwell among us, we can trust in the one who is the light of the world and that the light will not be quenched by any darkness. Knowing this, we can strive to live towards that day when swords will be beat into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks and all nations will stream to the Lord’s presence. This is what we were made to do as people of God.
Eugene Peterson’s the Message rephrases Isaiah 2 to say, “(God’ll) show us the way God works so we can live the way we were made.” In Christ, God indeed showed us how God works in the world- walking alongside us, knowing human pain and suffering, teaching the good news, healing the sick, dining with outcasts, sinners and friends and authority figures, washing the feet of his friends, spending time in worship and prayer with God, and standing up for justice and peace in the face of rulers who conspired against him. In Christ, God has shown us everything we know about exterior illumination, about walking in the light of the Lord. So though the days can seem dark and polluted, let us answer the call to walk in the light of the Lord. Let us walk in the light of the Lord, trusting in Christ the light of the world who shines before us, beside us and within us until all nations walk in God’s light together in peace, hope, love and joy.
Rev. Allysen Schaaf
Decatur Presbyterian Church
November 27, 2016