I have two movies I like to watch every Christmas. Although both are seasonal favorites watched by many, my reason for appreciating these movies might be different than the holiday spirit they invoke.
My first favorite movie is Muppet Christmas Carol. I know, I should be too grown-up for this one and prefer an older, more sophisticated version. But Michael Caine did a superb job playing the character of Ebenezer Scrooge, a man caught in the trap of a selfish heart. Even the words sung by the little muppet character’s reveal the depth of Scrooge’s meanness:
“He must be so lonely, he must be so sad
He goes to extremes to convince us he’s bad
He’s really a victim of fear and of pride
Look close and there must be a sweet man inside
(Nah . . . uh uh)”
They seem to understand Luke 6:45 “for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” And so Scrooge begins a Christmas Eve journey coming to an understanding of his life and how he came to be the way he is. He first visits his past life, observing how he chose work and money over community and relationship. He visits his present life, seeing the effects of his responses in relationships and what people really think of him. He even visits the future to reveal where these choices will inevitably lead. Finally, in a tearful plea, kneeling at his own gravestone, Scrooge cries with regret: “Tell me that I may sponge away the writing on this stone.”
My second favorite movie is “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Despite the Capraistic sentimentalism, this movie touches on some deep topics; unfulfilled aspirations, unhappiness, bitterness, anger, frustration, boderline violence and even contemplation of suicide. The main character, George Bailey, despite his own personal dreams, puts them aside for the good of others only to find his growing bitterness come to the surface when a great crises occurs. James 4:1 speaks to this, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” After wishing he had never been born and experiencing the horror of that life, George pleads through tears, “Lord, I want to live again.”
And why do I like these movies? With a telescopic lens looking at the big picture, I find these stories help us see the impact of our lives in community. Focusing only on our own happiness at the expense of others creates all kinds of havoc. But when I put on the microscopic lens, I see my own heart and can truly identify with both Scrooge and George Bailey.
This year as I decorated our Christmas tree, hanging ornaments we have gathered over the years, it was like the Christmas Carol as I went back in time revisiting my past. And like Scrooge, it was hard to see those former years. I remembered seasons of anger, bitterness and envy. The sin of selfishness had caused havoc in my own heart and had spilled onto others. I also remembered moments of despair, confusion, and fear and even a time when I had cried out like Geroge Bailey, “I wish I had never been born.” Like Scrooge I felt great regret and remorse.
Of course, the movies I mentioned have happy endings, something everyone seems to want at Christmas. Most of the world may not acknowledge that this desire for redemption, even in movies, stems from the image of God imprinted on man. But for me, I know that real redemption came in the form of a babe, wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger. It was through Jesus Christ, his birth, death, and resurrection that I am redeemed, that I have hope. As the Ghost of Christmas Past put it to Scrooge when asked why she was there, she replied, “For your welfare…your salvation then.” Christ indeed came for my salvation.
And Christ indeed redeemed my Christmas tree decorating. Amongst the sad memories, regret and remorse, came Lamentations 3:19-24:
“Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, says my soul, therefore I have hope in him.”
I am not sure what you are experiencing this Christmas season. From the calls I receive as the Intake Coordinator here at Peacemaker Ministries, many are sad, anxious, full of regret, suffering from very heavy circumstances and hearts. May these words encourage and remind you that we don’t need Christmas movies to remind us of God’s goodness. The Word came in flesh and we have been redeemed through the steadfast love of the Lord that never ceases. I do not know of any other life that could be so wonderful.