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Category: Advent

Bring on the schmaltz, hallmark!

I just watched my first Hallmark Christmas movie for 2019.

It’s not the first one I’ve watched. Last Christmas, somehow [the Christmas elves did it?] my television got glued to the Hallmark Channel, and I am pretty sure it is again. I freely admit that I am addicted to these movies; I cannot get enough of them, which is odd given that just days ago before Halloween, I was discussing the theological profundities of such movies as “The Conjuring” and “The Exorcism of Emily Rose.”

For the life of me I don’t know how I got hooked on Hallmark Christmas movies, or why they melt my butter the way they do. They are sappy/goopy and clichéd and have only one or two storylines that usually goes something like this: Just before Christmas, a beautiful businesswoman from the big city, highly successful but missing something, gets stuck in a small town – sometimes even her hometown – in a quaint little community that looks like Thomas Kinkade threw up on a Norman Rockwell painting. read more

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Clark Griswold, me, and discovering the joy of Advent

This week, churches around the world lit the third candle of Advent—the candle of joy. This joy is based on the fact that after centuries of promise, Messiah has come at last.

One of my guilty Christmas pleasures is watching the movie, “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” In it, Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) does all he can to create the joy of an old-fashioned “Griswold Family Christmas.” He prepares in advance. He makes his plans, calculations, and formulas. He pursues the perfect gift for the family (one he clearly can’t afford). He longs to give everyone a holiday as perfect as those he remembers from childhood.

But it’s a comedy, so of course his plans never work. His perfect yard display won’t light up. His perfect Christmas tree won’t fit in the house, and becomes a firework due to a cat and a short in the lights. His perfect family time is disrupted by difficult in-laws as well as his uninvited Cousin Eddie and his, um, dog Snots. His perfect gift falls through after his Christmas bonus morphs into an annual membership in the Jelly-of-the-Month club. And then the whole holiday literally goes up flames when a gas fireball explodes from his sewer. The season is ruined. read more

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Finding the hope of advent in the darkest corners of humanity

For week two of Advent, the theme is hope.

In 2016, the world seems dark and filled with conflict. War and violence are common; our hearts ache with uncertainty and loss. We take sides against each other, both literally and figuratively.

But it is in this darkness that hope shines brightest.

In the 2006 movie Children of Men, the world faces a bleak, hopeless future. For unexplained reasons, humanity has become infertile. No baby has been born in eighteen years. The world, fractured by despots and terrorists, has descended into chaos. The human species is being wiped out by attrition and war.

Then, amazingly, a woman becomes pregnant. Like the infertility, this event is unexplained.

At the climax, a fierce battle rages outside as the woman, hiding in a decrepit building, gives birth. A miracle baby is born. read more

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Why we need Advent now more than ever

5598559126_90f2e2024c_bAdvent—beginning with the first of four Sundays before Christmas—is usually my favorite time of year. I start anticipating it around June 21, when the days start getting shorter. I love the lights and colors, the smells of Christmas trees and warm fresh-baked cookies, the sounds of bells and carols, and the sight of Rudolph and Charlie Brown running across my television screen. But there’s a deeper reason for my love of Christmas.

For years, I have wrestled with my broken life, and Advent is a season to remember how God stepped into humanity’s story—my story—and lived among us for the sole purpose of saving us. Have you ever suddenly realized that you find more excitement in the days leading up to Christmas than the actual day itself? That is Advent. The “secular” Christmas season of anticipating Santa Claus is merely a shadow-like reflection of what Advent is. Advent is waiting, knowing Jesus will come. So for me, Advent is a reflection and celebration of the magnitude of Jesus’s birth, and what it means in the mess that is my life. read more

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Advent: Lighting the darkness, one dim bulb at a time

Advent-Light2The first week of December, as I sat on my couch untangling Christmas lights, I saw the breaking TV news of two active shooters in San Bernardino.

It was terrible. My first reaction was shock. I saw the confusion, the horror.

But as the news unfolded, my second reaction was dread—dread of what I knew would follow. And sure enough, instead of a focus on compassion and support for the victims, their families, and the first responders, immediately there sprang up arguments about how to fix it.

As the victims bled, pundits began talking on every network, while ordinary folks started blowing up the Internet. All were commenting from comfy remote locations; none were in the path of danger, surrounded by death and destruction or risking life and limb to help. Yet—while police cleared the site, helped the injured, and searched for the shooters—these people who weren’t there, who didn’t hear the screams or see the blood or feel the bullets, promoted sure-fire solutions on TV and shouted each other down in social media. read more

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The paradox of the bells

01f3de4d7e0148b5b4f93d30cdc65338At Christmas I often reflect on the incongruity of peace amid conflict, hope amid despair, light amid darkness. I am reminded of the simple paradox that light can push back darkness, but darkness cannot overcome light.

And nothing expresses this paradox better than Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 1864 poem, “Christmas Bells,”  later set to music as the carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”

We seldom hear the peal of church bells anymore, but in Longfellow’s time it was prominent in every town—especially at Christmas.

On Christmas Day 1864, our nation was enveloped in the darkness and despair of the Civil War. Yet Longfellow was struck by the joy and jubilation of the Christmas bells. read more

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The gifts of the star

Of all the symbols related to Christmas, the most meaningful for me is undoubtedly the star. 

The star radiates majesty and mystery. Perched high atop a roof or tree, silently overlooking the frenzy of the season, it doesn’t judge, coerce, or demand attention. It is just there, waiting patiently for the world to look up and receive its message of hope. 

sheperd_star_born_jesusMentioned in only one passage of scripture (Matthew 2:1-12), the star seems to appear with purpose and move with intelligence, almost like a living character in the story. When the promised Messiah is born, the star appears to the Magi, but it does not at first lead them to him; instead it apparently disappears or is hidden for awhile, because they have to go to Jerusalem and ask where to find “the king of the Jews” (v. 2). After they learn the prophets foretold he would be born in Bethlehem, the star reappears, to their great joy (v. 10). Matthew says it “went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was” (v. 9).  read more

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