Prov 17:22

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine... - Proverbs 17:22

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Elf: A Longing to Belong

First, a bit of trivia that Elf fans may not know. Remember Buddy’s thirteen-second-long belch after guzzling a two-liter bottle of Coca-Cola? The burp was real, but dubbed in by Canadian voice actor Maurice LaMarche (who voiced Brain from Pinky and the Brain, among many other cartoon characters). We should feel so proud.

This 2003 movie stars Will Farrell (who stands six-foot-three) as Buddy, a human raised by Santa’s elves. It always makes me laugh, but be sure you’re in the mood for extreme silliness when you decide to watch it.

Buddy has never been told he’s not an elf, and he grows up feeling inferior. He’s far too large for the elves’ homes and furnishings. He can’t make toys as quickly as they can. Though he feels loved by Papa Elf who adopted him, and accepted by the other elves who are too kind to hurt his feelings, Buddy knows he doesn’t fit in.

When Buddy learns he’s a human whose mother died and that he has a biological father unaware of his existence, he treks from the North Pole to New York City. His mission? To find his father and redeem him from Santa’s naughty list. The people he encounters, including his father, assume he’s completely dysfunctional and in need of serious help. All kinds of crazy scenes play out as Buddy gradually wins over his half-brother, his stepmother, a department store elf he’s quickly falling in love with, and—finally, his father. The group must then save Santa’s sleigh from certain destruction by raising NYC’s level of Christmas cheer. Buddy ends up a hero.

The touching part of this story is the part to which our souls relate: the hunger for belonging. We yearn to understand our roots, find our people, know where we fit. We long for father, and when that longing is met with rejection, it becomes the harshest rejection of all.

Regardless of race, class, nationality, or gender, our relationship with our father is deeply tied to our identity. That need is so strong in us, it can drive people into bad relationships, gangs, and cults. Even those fortunate enough to enjoy a good relationship with their parents understand the need for more. We were designed to be loved perfectly, but no parent or partner can measure up.

Deep inside, we long to know who we truly are. Whose we are. Though we may not admit it, our souls desire a relationship with our Creator. The good news is, our Creator desires one with us even more. Christmas made it possible. We don’t need to make a long trek to him. He sent his son to us. Because of the sacrifice Jesus made, look at what the Bible tells us about who we are in him:

I am a child of God. (John 1:12)
I am a friend of Jesus. (John 15:15)
I will not be condemned by God. (Romans 8:1)
I am accepted by Christ. (Romans 15:7)
I have wisdom, righteousness, and redemption. (1 Corinthians 1:30)
I am a new creature. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
I am set free. (Galatians 5:1)
I am blessed. (Ephesians 1:3)
I am chosen. (Ephesians 1:4)
I am forgiven. (Ephesians 1:7)
I am loved. (Ephesians 2:4-5)
I am provided for. (Philippians 4:19)

That’s only a partial list, but it includes twelve verses for you to look up—one for each of the twelve days of Christmas. Google them if it’s easier. I hope you’ll take some time this Christmas season to remember—or perhaps to discover for the first time—the identity and belonging your Creator offers you because of Jesus.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 5, 2019

How the Grinch (Almost) Stole Christmas

One movie in our DVD must-watch collection is the 2000 version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas with Jim Carrey in the title role. It’s based on Theodore (Doctor Seuss) Geisel’s 1957 book by the same name. Making a feature length movie out of a children’s storybook requires much expansion of the original. The writers of the screenplay created an entire past for the Grinch that makes him a somewhat sympathetic character and explains why he hated Christmas and the residents of Whoville. They also needed to add several extra scenes and plot points to the story, while staying true to Seuss’s rhyming style.

You may or may not be a fan, but Jim Carrey could not have been a better choice. If ever a role called for his maniacal style, this one does. Carrey delivers. I think it’s his performance and the brilliant makeup work that bring me back to this movie. My favourite lines do not appear in the book, like when the Grinch steps on the scale to discover his heart is down a size and he promises, “This time, I’m keeping it off!”

When the Grinch receives the invitation from Cindy Lou Who to their Whobilation festivities, Carrey ad libs. Flipping the pages of his calendar, the Grinch reads his tight schedule aloud:
“Four o’clock, wallow in self-pity; Four-thirty, stare into the abyss; Five o’clock, solve world hunger, tell no one; Five-thirty, jazzercize; Six-thirty, dinner with me—I can’t cancel that again; Seven, wrestle with my self-loathing. I’m booked.”

The part where the Grinch teases director Ron Howard by donning Howard’s famous ball cap and “directing” Max the dog on how to play a reindeer was all Jim Carrey’s. Howard loved it and left it in.

Like most Christmas movies, this one makes no references to the real Christmas. Its redemption comes in the lessons on bullying and its long-range results, on the emptiness of consumerism, and on the value of community, love, and goodwill.

But the real Christmas did include a grinch. His name was Herod the Great and he, too, had a past. Known for his architectural ambitions, this king of Judea was brutal. He executed members of his own family, banished at least one wife in order to “marry up” politically, and unfairly taxed the Judeans. Scholars agree Herod suffered throughout his lifetime from depression and paranoia. He was so concerned no one would mourn his death that he commanded several distinguished men to be killed at the time of his own death to ensure the displays of grief he craved would take place. Fortunately, this order was not carried out.

One equally horrific command was realized, however. King Herod felt so threatened when he learned about the birth of Jesus Christ, he determined to have the child murdered. When his initial plan was thwarted, he ordered all male children under the age of two in Bethlehem killed. While scholars tell us the total number of babies murdered would have been a dozen or so (not hundreds like is sometimes portrayed), I’ve sometimes wondered how I would have felt toward Jesus years later if I’d been one of those bereft mothers and if I understood why my child had died.

Jesus escaped this massacre, thanks to a warning given to Joseph in a dream. Like the Grinch’s, Herod’s attempt at stealing Christmas failed. Not long afterwards, Herod died an excruciating death.

Unlike the Grinch, Herod never experienced an epiphany. He never came to understand that, “Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas means a little bit more.”

Friday, November 22, 2019

You'll Shoot Your Eye Out!

Do you ever find yourself thirty minutes into a movie before realizing you’ve already seen it? I almost never intentionally watch a movie more than once, with the exception of Christmas movies. So, for my Christmas blog series this year, I’ll tell you about the movies I and my family watch nearly every year.

A movie set in the 1940s was released in 1983 to little attention in theatres. Over the years, however, A Christmas Story starring Peter Bilingsley as young Ralphie Parker has became one of the most played films on television. In 1997, Turner Network Television began airing a 24-hour marathon dubbed “24 Hours of A Christmas Story.” They ran the film twelve consecutive times beginning at 7 p.m. on Christmas Eve and ending Christmas Day. (We are not THAT fond of it.)

We were first introduced to this movie around 2005 by our adult children. It seemed odd that they loved it, given that the setting dated back to before even my birth. But to them, it’s a classic. Its Canadian connections add to the appeal. While the story is set in the fictional town of Hohman, Indiana, many of the scenes were shot in Toronto. Watching my kids enjoy something usually pulls me in, too. Somewhere along the line we acquired the DVD with special features like interactive trivia quizzes about the show and interviews with the now adult child actors. Today, you can tour the house in Cleveland, Ohio that provided the home’s exterior shots in the movie. Later, the owner remodelled it to look like the movie set’s interior and opened it to the public.

The charm of the film is the narration provided by the adult Ralphie Parker, reminiscing about the Christmas he was nine. The narrator is Jean Shepherd, the author of the stories on which the movie is based. His 1966 book, In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash, is a collection of semi-fictional anecdotes from his childhood.

In the movie, Ralphie wants only one gift for Christmas: a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle. Ralphie’s desire is shot down by his mother, his teacher, and even Santa Claus at Higbee’s department store, all giving him the same warning: “You’ll shoot your eye out.”

Riddled with hilarious and memorable scenes, I can see why this movie became such an icon. Who could ever forget the kid who sticks his tongue to a flagpole on a double-dog dare, the terrifying visit to Santa, Ralphie in the despised pink bunny suit, the secret decoder pin, the old man’s major prize of a leg lamp, or the hilarious scene near the end in the Chinese restaurant?

The tenderness of this movie comes in the form of an unexpected present from Ralphie’s father. We see Ralphie snuggled in bed on Christmas night with his gift by his side, while adult Ralphie says this was the best present he had ever or would ever receive.

Who among us doesn’t long for an expression of love from a caring father?

Our heavenly Father gave us the best gift we have ever or will ever receive. The first Christmas present wasn’t purchased at a store or placed under a tree. It was a little baby who grew to become our Saviour—a gift of love and life and peace and hope and restoration. He is the perfect gift. May you find him this Christmas.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 NIV)