Our local remembrance of Christ's birth has borrowed much. Celebration. Kids. Sentimentality. A scary yet kindly old dude doling out coal or other gifts. Candles. Evergreen trees. Tinsel. Family. Fa la la la la.
Thus I am reminded of Charlie Brown's frustrated question, "Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?" Linus' response from Luke chapter 2 is one of those special moments in my life. I clearly remember the next morning (which would have been December 10, 1965) waiting for the school bus on our frozen dirt road, pondering that the TV bosses let Linus quote the Bible straight for at least a minute; so maybe there's hope for this world. I was buoyed also by the alternately wistful and jazzy soundtrack that runs in my head now these fifty years.
Yet, though they are what Christmas is all about, many of the events of the first Christmas are not unique. You can recall other instances, old and new. Sure you can. Angel? Not new. Shepherds? A-plenty. Wise Men? Been there. A guiding star? A prophecy? Taxes? No room in the inn? A baby? Refugees fleeing a cruel king? Been there, bought the T-shirt, washed my car with the T-shirt.
In the remaining few clips I suggest that the core of Christmas is this:
God with us.
And not in anger, but in mercy and kindness.
And God rest ye merry, everyone!
I was walking in Falls Church up Washington Street from the State Theater toward 66. There across the street, behind big windows, across a corridor, and posted on a wall was this huge, provocative sign just as pictured here.
The question remains: Of, By, or For?
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If you have not seen any Kid Snippets, know that kids you will see at the end imagine and narrate in their own words some scenario. Adults perform the actions in sync.
Here are three Christmas movies I recommend.
Let's start with a video that made me smile, even though on my first viewing this Christmas flick seemed to this curmudgeon to have no reference to Christ except as needed to spell "Christmas".
Arthur Christmas (2011) got me in two ways. Up front, the notion of competent, hidden forces intent on doing good stirs me. The special-ops elves are geekily cool. I found the the brief appearances of "S-1" and "Evie" awesome. Even numinous. Secondly, this is one of the rare movies of which I can profitably ask an important question: In what ways is the main character—or any character--like Jesus?
Someone snuck into the script bits of "Silent Night" and of "Gloria, hosanna in excelsis." Apart from these blips, Arthur Christmas is an action adventure Santa Claus movie. Beneath the surface excitement it explores motives for doing good. Other Santa Claus movies are about giving, or having faith in Santa, or having faith in faith, or rescuing Christmas. Arthur Christmas is about humility, compassion, excellence, and bravery. The four Santas (!) in Arthur Christmas are not supernatural gift-givers, displacing God. Rather, these Santas are flawed humans who learn and grow significantly.
I am not a fan of the Coca Cola Santa. I cannot in conscience tell kids to be good and Santa will bring you toys. I resent how Santa distracts from Jesus.
Way better than Santa Claus, a construct, I admire Saint Nicholas, a real person born around the year 270 in what is now the south coast of Turkey. Nicholas aimed to be like Jesus in humility and kindness. One could do worse than to be like Nicholas! My increasingly white and bushy beard makes small ones exclaim, "Mama, Santa!" As allowed, I explain that, "I am glad to meet you. I am Saint Nicholas' younger brother—his younger, handsomer brother." Thus I need not already know their name and lusts for loot. As Saint Nicholas' younger brother I can talk freely with the knee huggers of their wishes and of kindness.
If a youngster or anyone wants to know more of Saint Nicholas, I recommend VeggieTales: Saint Nicholas - A Story of Joyful Giving (2009). It is full of inventive fun that works for several age-levels.
Boring documentaries I have seen of Saint Nicholas portray his kindness and humility as unusual. VeggieTales: Saint Nicholas shows how Nick might have gained those traits and how he creatively and bravely used them. Bob tries to school Larry that the historical Nicholas had no notion of elves and tinsel. However, childlike Larry persists in imagining modern additions into the story. Younger ones may be happily distracted by Larry's silly additions. My audiences of grade school kids saw how Nicholas developed generosity through the examples of his parents and others.
The Big Idea of this video is, I don't give to feel happy. I give because I am happy. And I am happy because of what God gave. From scant data VeggieTales: Saint Nicholas shows how the boy Nick might have become the kindly and brave man Nicholas. As a bonus, toward the end there is a gravity-transcending "Let's do this" bit that brought a big smile to the nerd boy in me.
Finally, for the most straightforward and engaging presentation of the first Christmas, I nominate The Nativity Story (2006).
Again, I value the character development shown here. Mary, Joseph, and others are not pre-packaged perfection. They are people who basically trust God, and who grow to trust God more. The Nativity Story presents the ordinary life of these people. Kids worked in the fields and in other ways but were not without playfulness. As evidenced by archaeology and records, the whole family slept in one room. Want a sandwich? Plant and harvest the grain, grind it to flour, and bake it. Travel was dangerous. Governments were brutal. When I watched this with sensitive kids, I told them they could close their eyes at the brief, indirectly-presented scenes from the Bible record of cruelties and pain. It's good to remember that Jesus came to conquer cruelty and death itself.
The Nativity Story makes minor expansions and compressions of the gospels and other records of the time—but no more than a typical Christmas pageant does, and with high production values. It finds a novel reason why Herod would turn taxing into a census. We see young Mary transition from fun with her friends into the responsibilities of a mother. Whereas the Bible simply summarizes that Joseph was "a just man", this portrayal shows us Joseph quietly demonstrating integrity, kindness, and bravery. The three wise men banter. I liked the respect given to Elizabeth and Zechariah as encouragers.
What for me marks a good Christmas movie—or any good movie—is present in these three quite different movies.
Christmas-related links follow. These have made my days merry and bright.
This first video began my collection and remains one of my favorites.
In unexpected places I find “glad tidings of great joy” and also “meek souls will receive him still.”
God's people and purpose are here if you open your eyes, look up to the skies and see:
If you must prioritize, watch “Hiding Baby Jesus” from the Skit Guys.
You better watch out. I have more clips like these that I aim to post over the next few weeks. Some of these videos are funny, some are musical, some offer insight, some are cute. All are among my favorites. If you have something similarly encouraging, feel free to share via the Comments.
At The Surge we love doing things together... that includes writing a blog! Here are a few of our main contributing authors:
Our fearless leader, Dwaine is the lead pastor at The Surge. His experience in counter terrorism with the CIA prepared him for ministry and he likes dogs and babies even more than E does.
E (short for Eric Reiss) is the Wingman at The Surge and likes dogs, music, Mexican food, his wife Karen and his little girl Evangeline... not necessarily in that order.