You may have been asked or heard others asked, “What is your favorite Christmas movie?” Certainly, a question to ponder. There are so many movies to choose from: the nostalgic – “Miracle on 34th Street,” “White Christmas,” or “It’s a Wonderful Life;” classics – “A Christmas Story” or “A Christmas Carol (choose a version);” animated – “Frosty the Snowman,” “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” or “A Charlie Brown Christmas;” comedies - “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” or “Elf;” other well-known favorites - “Home Alone,” “The Santa Clause,” or “The Polar Express” and even off-the wall movies – “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” And many, many more.
With so many to choose from, how do you even go about picking a favorite? Is it even possible to pick only one?
Maybe the question to ask is what makes a Christmas movie a favorite? Some have said it is the movie you sit down to watch any time it is on no matter how many times you have seen it before. It might be the first one you watch when the Christmas season begins or the last one at the end of a Christmas movie binge. Is a movie a favorite because it makes you laugh or cry or touches your heart or because you can sing the songs? Maybe it has always been a family favorite, so you grew up watching the movie every year. Maybe you don’t know why a Christmas movie is your favorite, you just know you like it.
Now imagine watching your favorite Christmas movie for the first time. Think about the story. What draws you in so you want to continue watching? Which character or characters do you connect with the most? Why? How does the movie speak to you about the meaning of Christmas?
The meaning of Christmas. The point of a Christmas Eve service is to share the meaning of Christmas, isn’t it? Through the Bible readings, the music, and the familiar carols, the warm fuzzies fill our hearts. We hear the familiar story of Mary and Joseph – the angels that tell each of them about the son they will have, the journey to Bethlehem with 9 months pregnant Mary riding on a donkey, no room at the inn, the baby born in the manger and laid in the feeding trough for his bed, and the angels and shepherds (oh, and the wisemen, but they really come later). The story culminates with all the characters in a manger scene like the ones here in the sanctuary.
Imagine hearing the story of Jesus’ birth for the first time (Maybe this is your first time. If so, this will be easier). What draws you in so you want to hear the rest? Which character or characters do you connect with? Why? How does the story speak to you about the meaning of Christmas? The story, though, is so familiar that it is easy to miss how God speaks to us through it. So tonight, I’ll encourage you to take a fresh look at the Christmas story.
I once taught an adult class in the weeks before Christmas. The session that stands out for me was the one where we looked at the manger scene. We read the familiar story of the baby being born in a stable. As we read, I pointed out that the Bible makes no mention of any animals being present. We assume they are there – the donkey Mary rode on (although the fact that she rode one isn’t mentioned), the sheep that the shepherds must have brought, and the cow that probably lived in the stable. Of course, we add the camels the wisemen must have ridden on (how else would they have traveled a long distance across a desert?). Yet the presence of these animals that are usually part of a manger scene is nowhere to be found in the Biblical story although it is reasonable to assume they were there.
Each adult was given modeling clay to make an animal they would like to include in the scene. I asked them to be creative. The results were unexpected. Our manger scene included an elephant, a dolphin, a dog and a cat, a horse, a mouse, a turtle, and a few others I don’t remember. Then we discussed how God spoke to us through our reimagined manger scene. The scene they created reminded them that all of creation is included in God’s plan to save the world. Through our discussion, our view of God and God’s work was expanded.
Christmas is more than a familiar story and a traditional manger scene. Tonight, I encourage you to picture in your mind the details we often miss. See pregnant Mary trying to get comfortable in a stable with a worried Joseph trying to help. Imagine the straw in the feeding trough the baby was laid in. See the shepherds cowering in fear at the sight and sound of the angels in the sky. Imagine the animals you would include in and around the stable.
Then, pay attention to the words as we sing “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” Picture the Bethlehem star in the sky as you hold a candle and sing “Silent Night.” Let the joy enter your heart as we close the service singing “Joy to the World.” Listen for God to speak to you as the choir sings the benediction. Reflect on God’s presence during the postlude. Let it all in and allow all you experience to enter your heart.
For you see, the meaning of Christmas is truly in the heart. Everything else calls us back to the heart of the story – the birth of Jesus Christ, our Savior.