Every year as the Christmas season approaches, my daughters and I look forward to watching Hallmark Christmas movies. We love the romance and sparkle and magic that emanates from the screen. We love walking with the guy and the girl through the neat and tidy, very predictable plot, conflict and resolution, complete with the kiss in the snowglobe-like final scene.
And yet…as the final credits roll, often there is a dissatisfaction and cynicism that creeps into my spirit, and in some ways, rightly so. The ideal that these stories present does not exist in our world, and if I hope to see what’s on the screen reflected in my personal experience of the Christmas season this year, then I will be disappointed.
Our culture has adopted a mindset about life as reflected in these stories. They tell us that we all should be happy and healthy, that our lives should be filled with all the pleasures and perks that wealth and worldly success can offer us. Throw in family values and a little bit of generic faith, and there you have it—the recipe for a “safe” family movie for the holidays.
It’s no wonder we are dissatisfied when life hands us trials, pain, poor physical and mental health, and relational conflict that is not wrapped up neat and tidy like the Christmas bows we tie on our shiny, foiled-wrapped gifts.
As Christians we are not called to false idealism or pessimism but realism. In fact, further, we are called to suffer. This is our purpose. Christ suffered for us as an example to us; we are to follow in His footsteps, entrusting ourselves to Him Who always judges righteously (I Peter 2:21-23). He alone knows why He allows particular suffering in our lives; it is necessary for our growth in Christlikeness. Even Jesus who came as the perfect human being had to learn obedience from what He suffered (Hebrews 5:8).
Suffering is a part of the package of life in this sinful world. Though the birth of Christ truly is a celebration of good news of great joy, we need to look at the other side of the Christmas story. If we strip away the commercialization and idealization of the events surrounding Christ’s birth, we will see that His coming into the world was not the rosy, magical ideal we too often portray even as Christians.
Think about some of these Christmas story facts:
- Jesus entered the world at a time when the Jews were being oppressed by the Romans.
- That oppression led to a forced census with tax grab that landed Joseph and Mary in Bethlehem.
- Mary was a young unwed expectant mother shamed in a time when others would shun her for her state; in fact, Joseph was even going to abandon her but save her shame by divorcing her quietly until God sent an angel to tell him the truth about the child she was carrying (see Matthew 1:18-25).
- They traveled to Bethlehem without the support of their families (as far as we know) to a foreign village where they couldn’t even find a place to lodge to have their son so that he was born in the place the animals slept and ate.
- Strangers in a place that wasn’t their own, they were forced to flee to an even more foreign place to live for a time. King Herod, threatened with the news of this newborn king of the Jews, was determined to stamp this threat out and ordered the murder of all the boys under two years old.
- So they became refugees and lived as strangers in Egypt until it was safe to return to their home.
Where is the magic and sparkle and sentimentalism in that?
Yeah…outside of the angelic visits which came to a small few, it’s not there if we really look at it honestly. Does that mean I’m trying to be the Grinch here and tell you to never watch another Hallmark Christmas movie or decorate a tree or even place that quaint and reverent Nativity scene up on your coffee table this year?
Absolutely not! We must celebrate our Saviour’s birth. He is our only hope. But while we wait for His second coming, we patiently long for His return. We see His presence and peace and joy in the midst of our suffering and patiently endure it as He did.
And we look for our ideal not in having the Norman Rockwell or Hallmark Christmas but the full and true Christmas. In this story the patient Christ who lovingly endured this very real, totally true birth story walked on this earth, to and through the suffering of the cross to buy us back to be the Father’s possession and give us a real and certain hope of a place that will pale in comparison to any Hallmark Christmas movie ideal.
Bring on the sappy story and the hot chocolate and popcorn!
I want to make beautiful memories this Christmas season amidst my suffering and pain because God has shown us the final ending, and though the getting there isn’t totally pretty, the final conclusion is glorious and beyond anything any script writer can imagine.
Well, maybe it is pretty, because, after all, God is writing this script. He’s writing mine. And I will trust Him with the ending.
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