Here we are once again. Christmas. The celebration of the birth of Jesus. The Christian calendar calls the four Sundays leading up to Christmas Day Advent, and is considered a time of anticipation and reflection on the meaning of Christmas. But secular cultural themes and celebrations have impacted the concept of Advent to the point that it has lost much of its meaning.
As a pastor I feel the tension between keeping a good Advent and people’s desire to skip the waiting part, and get right into celebrating Christmas.
So this Advent I did something different. I thought about the meaning of Christmas expressed through our secular celebrations by focusing on four of my favorite Christmas shows, ones that are aired on TV every year: “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”
I realize there are other favorites you might have, but these are the ones that came to mind for me, so there you have it. My effort was to get to the heart of these shows, to wonder what they might teach me about the meaning of Christmas.
This is what I learned.
I learned from “A Charlie Brown Christmas” that you can do lots of things at Christmas time, and you can have lots of stuff, but if you are not centered in the reality that God has entered the world in order to redeem it, the stuff will never satisfy. You will never have enough stuff. But if you have God you will have all you need.
Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer taught me that it’s important to be who you are, and not what others think you ought to be. Even misfit toys have a place in the world. “God Doesn’t Make Junk” was a slogan in the ‘70s. And every one of us bears the wounds of love. Henry Nouwen called us wounded healers.
You might say our church is an “Island of Misfit Toys,” a place where everyone is welcomed and loved. For who they are. And what they can become. Bearers of God’s good news proclaimed by Jesus.
In a similar way “It’s a Wonderful Life” reminds us that our lives matter. That our very presence adds something to the whole world. That we each have been given the gift of who we are — unique — unlike anyone else, and that we have a purpose. We are also reminded that we must not be so busy looking for the thing we are looking for that we miss the thing we find.
The thing we find just might be the thing we were looking for all along.
And then there is the “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” Ah, the Grinch. I wonder, much like Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol,” what happened to the Grinch early on that shrank his heart? For whatever reason, the Grinch believes he can hurt everyone in Whoville by stealing Christmas from them. So he steals all of their stuff.
But Cindy Lou Who and the rest of the townsfolk know the secret to Christmas. It’s not about the stuff. You can steal the stuff, but you cannot steal Christmas. The Grinch learns the true meaning of Christmas. It’s about love. And his heart grows.
I find it ironic that by engaging these stories I have been keeping Advent. What I mean is, by taking time to really watch and listen to Charlie and Rudolph, to George and the Grinch, I have experienced a very meaningful preparation for celebrating Christmas.
Christmas isn’t just a day. It’s a way of living.
May you know the Hope and Joy, the Peace and Love that is Christmas. Everyday.
The Rev. Ron Griffen is lead pastor of First United Methodist Church in El Centro.