Hey, do you dislike those cheezy Hallmark Christmas movies? Yeah me too.
The main ingredients of a cheezy Christmas movie are two good looking characters and a Scroogy villain of some sort. Add a moral dilemma, wholesome supporting characters, then toss in some Christmas tradition and a romantic misunderstanding. Finally, trim it all with perfectly decorated sets, mounds of fake snow, and a pinch of holiday joy.
Hey, do you also enjoy those cheezy Hallmark Christmas movies? Yeah, me too.
Snow fell last night here in the rolling hills of Northumberland; is still falling gently. Not a lot, but enough to blanket the lawn, the trees, the shrubs with a pristine layer of white. Outside, the air is crisp and the world feels clean. A picturesque Hallmark movie; a Christmas painting.
Maybe these things are awful or nice depending on how we see the world: how much hope we have that it can be made right.
Those movies helps us escape to a world of goodness where people are pleasant and neighbourly, where the ‘bad guys’ are marginalized, where ethics and love win the day. There’s something awfully nice about syrupy and predictable but unfortunately the niceness also requires a lot of pretending.
A happy movie can shelter us against the difficulty and dread around us, much like a weekly church service can. However, there is always an underlying remorse because we know the dream is short-lived and we have to return to our important daily realities.
We accept there is hope, peace, love, and joy in the world but the reality is that we are under the constant, suffocating crush of sinful surroundings.
It still puzzles me when I hear evangelicals pointing at current events as fulfillment of biblical prophecy. The world is on the verge of apocalypse they say, and things are so bad that Jesus’ second coming is obviously imminent.
Access to global information and cognitive biases lead us believe things are horrible, however to suggest that today is a darker, more dangerous time seems too convenient, too manipulative. Aside from the theological difficulties with those beliefs, a quick look at history confirms the world is no worse now than it was the first time Jesus came here.
It seems evangelicals think of the end of the world as the momentous time when God finally brings the hammer down and punishes those sinners. What a sad place to be – so negative about circumstances that they are stuck waiting for the relief of the end. It’s almost like there are christians who feel … hopeless.
You will recall that Jesus was born into a conquered place and dangerous time. Women, children, sickly, and refugees were abandoned with regularity. The biblical account tells us about Jesus’ marginalized teenage parents leaving their country to keep him safe and the deaths of scores of children in a government attempt to kill him.
When Jesus began his ministry, it was in a cauldron of hatred and overt danger. Slavery, poverty, disease, racism, idol worship were commonplace. As an adult, he became an immediate hero. People followed him in the hope that he was the the Messiah who would crush their enemies, end their difficult circumstances, and re-shape their world.
But Jesus disappointed them at every turn, directing his teaching toward peace, forgiveness, even loving enemies. He had an affinity for the sick, the poor, the broken, the weak, and he had endless affection for ‘sinners’.
The plan, it seems, was something new and most difficult: to patiently heal rather than impatiently destroy.
The world was a dark, hopeless place when Jesus came and hope is no more difficult today than it was then. For christians to hope for the end of all things is not an act of faith but of surrender to the darkness. God doesn’t want to destroy the world, he wants to save it; heal it.
I can’t tell you how many times in my life I have heard the words, “ask Jesus into your heart”. It’s easy to hear those words so often that they become old and trite.
But the substance of the invitation is powerful: to internalize Jesus so that we think and act more like him. To understand that he is alive and at work in the world gives us living hope.
I’m reminded of the final words from Christina Rossetti‘s classic poem, In the Bleak Midwinter.
What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what can I give Him: give my heart.
Traditionally the first Sunday of Advent begins with the theme of Hope. What better place to begin to be hopeful than within ourselves? By giving him our hearts.
It’s true, you know. All Jesus ever wanted was our hearts: not in a Hallmark kind of way or an emotional religious kind of way, but in a living, hopeful, world-blessing way.