Christ Church Gardiner
Christmas Eve-7pm 2019
Good evening and welcome to Christ Church on this beautiful and sacred Christmas Eve. In the hustle and bustle of the season, I always feel like on this night, when we gather here to worship and hear the story anew of the birth of Christ, we can finally slow down and settle into the beauty and wonder of this celebration.
But building up to this night, my home, like yours, I am sure, has been a little chaotic. So our family tries to slow down now and then, by taking time to watch our favorite Christmas movies. This year, however, those movies led to a debate that has brewed in our home over the past few weeks. A debate about which Christmas movies are worthy of the season.
Jeff, my husband, was outraged when I claimed that “Love Actually” was one of the best Christmas movies out there. He prefers most any other Christmas movie to “Love Actually,” but his favorite is “Die Hard.” After watching “Die Hard” with him—however… I had a hard time buying that you could call it a Christmas movie just because it happens to take place on Christmas Eve.
So this debate started about what it took for a movie to be a goodChristmas movie, to stand the test of time, and to actually help us to understand the true meaning of this season.
In this darkest and coldest part of the year, we find ourselves wanting desperately to believe in light and warmth. A good Christmas movie, if it is to be worthy of the season, of the celebration of the birth of Jesus, must help us to believe in the magic of this season. Help us to believe in the powerful story that God came among us in human flesh in order to save us. And help us to see why that story still matters for our lives today.
The result of this marital debate about worthy movies (debate sounds better than argument) was Jeff challenging me to find and share with you tonight the Christmas message in three different Christmas movies. But, he said, one of those movies had to be Die Hard.
Never being one to shy away from a challenge, I offer you three movies that embody for us a Christmas message—and one of them is “Die Hard.” I will start, of course, with the easy ones first.
My childhood favorite was “Miracle on 34thStreet.” In “Miracle,” we find the Christmas message of belief.
Young Susan Walker and her mother, Doris, actually take pride in their unbelief. Of Santa Claus and all things fanciful and fairy taleish. When the Macy’s Santa, aptly named Kris Kringle, comes into their lives and tries to convince them that he is the real Santa Claus, they are at first dismissive of his claim, as is everyone else. But in the movie, an entire trial ensues to try to prove that he is, in fact, Santa.
At the end of the movie, Susan finds herself trying with all her heart to have faith in Kris, despite her reservations, and she recites to herself, “I believe. I believe. It’s silly, but I believe.” You may remember that as she is reciting this on the way home, the family car passes the very house that she had asked for from Santa and then been disappointed when she didn’t get it.
Of course, Santa doesn’t actually get her a house. It’s up to Susan’s mother to make that happen, and we never learn if she actually does. So we are mistaken if we take from this movie that Santa is real because he gets little Susie a real house.
Instead we should see that in Kris Kringle asking Susan and her mother to believe in him, he is asking them to have faith that they will be changed by their relationship with him and the message of generosity and wonder and kindness that he brings to their lives. And they are. By the end of the movie, they have both opened their hearts and let love in—all inspired by their friendship with Santa.
Like their story, those awaiting the birth of a savior more than 2000 years ago didn’t expect that Savior to look like a baby born in a stable. They wanted a king—a military general, perhaps, who would defeat the Romans and rebuild the kingdom of Israel.
What they got in Jesus, instead, was a savior that invited them into a relationship of love and made it possible for them to know God more fully. The Santa in “Miracle on 34thStreet” reminds Susan that Christmas isn’t just a day of the year, but a frame of mind. Salvation through Jesus, is like that, too. It isn’t a one-time event, but a relationship that is ongoing and constantly changing us.
Then there’s that other Christmas classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life” with Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey, the hard-working and big-hearted head of the Building and Loan, just scraping by and trying to take care of his family and pretty much everyone else in the town. This movie teaches us something about revelation and light. When it appears that the stingy owner of most everything in the town, Mr. Potter, has tricked George and will take over the Building and Loan, putting lots of families at risk of losing their homes, the whole town panics. George begs the townspeople to stick together and to have faith in each other, but they can’t hear him above their own terror.
In his despair, George begins to consider ending his own life. But he is saved by his guardian angel, Clarence. Clarence takes George back in time to show him all the lives that he has touched and helped and how his community would be so much bleaker without George in it. He says to George, “Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”
Revelation and light are about unveiling that which was hidden—Clarence reveals for George the meaning of his life. He reveals that it is love that is at the center of his very being. And he reveals that it is never the rich and miserly Potters of the world that bring light to others, but those who choose to love and serve the people who need them most. And when this is revealed to George Bailey, he is ready to face the challenges in his life and to embrace those who need his love and support.
Jesus, our Savior, wasn’t first revealed to Roman emperors or even Israelite hierarchy. He came first to a young, unwed mother, a scared father, lowly shepherds, and a stable full of animals. As Jesus grew, he continued to make his place with those on the margins.
George Bailey also stood up for those on the margins. What Mr. Potter called rabble, George understood to be those who do “most of the working and paying and living and dying” in their community. The people that Potter would reject because they had no material wealth, George embraced and helped because he understood their value in the eyes of God. The birth of Jesus reveals God’s great love for every one of us, and his particular blessing on the poor and outcast. George Bailey could see that, and he is a Christmas example for us all.
So maybe it’s not such an achievement to find the Christmas story alive in “Miracle on 34thStreet” and “It’s a Wonderful Life,” But it was a little more challenging to see what “Die Hard” might have to do with that babe born in the manger.
But I think we can safely say that despite all of the non-Christmasy things about the movie—the gratuitous violence and the colorful language, Die Hard is a story about hope against hope.
It’s a story about a lot of people in danger, a group of criminals that have a single-minded goal and do not care who they kill to get it, and New York cop, John McClane, who is trying to save them. The plot is pretty standard for these types of movies. McClane should not be able to singlehandedly defeat a dozen seasoned criminals holding a roomful of hostages. Hans Gruber, the main villain should be the victor. But of course, we know how these movies end. The underdog always wins the fight and gets the girl in the end, too.
But though the underdog storyline is one we know all too well, it’s still compelling. The story of Jesus is in line with this underdog, David and Goliath, kind of theme. The people of Israel were waiting for a Savior that would challenge the Roman Imperial Government. A King that would make Israel a great nation again.
Instead they got a baby. Who grew up to be an itinerant preacher who spent most of his time with the outcast, the sick, the poor and hungry. One who never wielded a weapon against the Roman government. The people believed in hope against hope that Jesus would indeed save them. And he did, though not in the way that anyone expected. Jesus saved them with love instead of violence. He showed that love had the greater power and that love cannot be killed but will always rise again.
If I want to be generous with the “Die Hard” movie for my husband and all the other fans out there, then I can see how in McClane defeating the Hans Gruber, we see how Hope wins. And when he reunites with his wife, we see how Love wins. I have to admit that these ARE both themes of our Christmas story, even if they are revealed in “Die Hard.”
In these iconic Christmas movies, we discovered themes from the story of the birth of Jesus: Faith. Light. Love. Hope. I’m sure you came here tonight, however, not to hear those stories, but the one with the manger and stable and Mary and Joseph and a new baby. If you are here tonight, you already believe that there is something compelling about our Christmas story, and it is a beautiful one.
But I invite you tonight to seek the story of Christmas in all sorts of places. Not just in the Gospels. Not just in our favorite Christmas movies. Don’t let this subversive, miraculous story get stale and boring because we have heard it so many times.
We live in a world where there are many people who are hesitant to embrace the story of Jesus. Perhaps they have their own faith tradition with their own stories of love and salvation. Perhaps people have used the Jesus story to harm them or those they love or to make them feel of little value.
But there are many ways to tell this story. To tell the story of a God who loved us enough to take on human flesh and dwell with us. The story of a God who desires relationship with us and wants to bring us healing and wholeness. A God who comes to those most in need and blesses the poor, the hungry, the lonely, the outcast.
When you go back out into the world, find a way to tell this story of the love that came down at Christmas. It’s powerful. We hear enough stories of hate and violence and resentment and distrust in the news these days. Our world needs a few more stories of faith, light, hope. It needs a few more love stories. Go and tell them. Amen.