I hope you all had a Merry Christmas Day and are enjoying this Christmas season. Because this is the low first Sunday after Christmas, please give me some license to move away from our way too theological Gospel reading today and talk about some Christmassy items instead.
There is a curious thing I’ve noticed about the media talking about Christmas this year. It is the seemingly very important discussion about what constitutes a Christmas movie, and the awarding of the “best” efforts in Christmas movies over the years. I actually heard last week both a Seattle sports radio talk show and an ESPN national radio show where the sports personalities argued, almost fought, about which movies were really Christmas movies.
So, is “Diehard” a Christmas movie? Is “Trading Places” one? What about “Holiday Inn”, or “White Christmas”, or “It’s a Wonderful Life”?
Lorretta Bolger Wish has this list of “bests” of Christmas movies in Huffington Post this week:
Best Santa: Edmund Gwenn in Miracle on 34th Street, of course. In or out of uniform, he's so generous, wise and kindly he makes a believer out of everybody, even world-weary moppet Natalie Wood.
Best Scrooge: Nobody's ever topped Alastair Sim in the 1951 A Christmas Carol - and yes, not only is it a remake, but it was the 18th if you count TV versions! He looks the part and inhabits it perfectly, right down to his Christmas-morning giddiness. But Bill Murray's modern Ebenezer, morphing from smarmy TV exec to born-again philanthropist in Scrooged, gets honorable mention.
Best happy ending: As it closes with George's loved ones rallying around in his darkest hour, It's a Wonderful Life still makes me tear up after countless viewings. Some insist it isn't really a Christmas movie, but it opens at the holiday, embarks on an extended flashback (and flash sideways to an alternate world) then concludes on the 25th, so it definitely qualifies.
Best Christmas musical: White Christmas, a comedic song-and-dance extravaganza, edges out Holiday Inn despite the absence of Fred Astaire. The chemistry of Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen, combined with a great Irving Berlin score (What Do You Do with a General? notwithstanding) and vibrantly colored VistaVision, makes it fabulous fun.
Best action hero: Bruce Willis made Die Hard's beleaguered cop John McClane into the guy we'd count on most in a Christmas crisis-funny, brave, resourceful and gruffly romantic. Yippie-yi-yo-ki-yay indeed!
Best holiday laugh fest: For nonstop hilarity, Trading Places is a sure bet. Financiers turn their protégée into a penniless felon, give his home and job to a streetwise punk and sit back to watch the fallout. The raucous holiday week culminates with gun-toting preppie Dan Aykroyd crashing their party dressed as Santa and nearly choking his clueless successor Eddie Murphy.
Best Christmas villain: Who else but the Grinch? He was a mean one, but how we love seeing his heart triple in size after the Whoville gang shows him what Christmas is all about.
Best workplace comedy: Scrooge aside, nobody was a worse office buzz kill than Desk Set's Spencer Tracy, whose 1957 behemoth computer was set to replace Katharine Hepburn's research team amid all the company's holiday revels. Luckily, love and common sense triumphed.
Best Christmas tree: Charlie Brown's tiny, pitiful evergreen, before and after the Peanuts kids give it a makeover to cheer their disheartened pal, is the hands-down winner.
Best romantic comedy: Tough call between Love, Actually with its eight England-based couples and Sandra Bullock's courtship by two brothers and their loopy Chicago clan in While You Were Sleeping. But The Holiday is the best of both -- home swappers from LA and Surrey fleeing their faithless boyfriends at Christmas to find festivity, surrogate families and true love across the ocean.
During this Christmas season on Facebook you could take short quizzes to find out: which Holiday movie you are. Also, which Christmas drink and candy cane flavor are you, and what your Santa Claus IQ is.
Getting serious, we all have our own Christmas traditions (some actually involve church and celebrating the birth of Jesus). Lauren Purser blogged this about her own meaningful Christmas tradition: "Every year, my family goes with two or three other families (usually families we have known for many years) to sing Christmas carols at the local nursing home. Many of the residents have very few family members who visit them. Some have no Christmas visitors and are very lonely. We have one friend who lives in the nursing home who joins us every year, making his way through the halls as we push him in his wheelchair. It is a way that my parents taught me to think of others before myself, especially during the very materialistic Christmas season. Jesus teaches us to welcome strangers and comfort those who mourn. What better time to live out His teachings than during Christmas?"
A major theme is being pushed this Christian season. A HuffPost article talks about Christmas this way, “As your social media contacts must have reminded you by now, Christmas truly is the story of a Middle Eastern family seeking refuge. Recent forensic research suggests that Jesus looked very much like the men that so many in the predominantly Christian Western world are frightened to let into their countries. Even in photos of the refugees, there are striking echoes of biblical iconography.
“Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me,” Jesus says in Matthew’s gospel. “Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” This is at the very core of Christian values: love your neighbor as yourself—and as your god.
And yet Westerners are, by and large, keeping refugees at bay, bargaining their quotas down, as if the world’s 2.2 billion Christians had never been taught the story of Joseph and Mary being refused accommodation because they were poor strangers. (My own commentary here—this is Christian hypocrisy in a big way! Note that about 1 Million refugees have gone to Europe this year; in the Unites States we’re complaining about 10,000 refugees coming here.)
Perhaps instead we can show mercy for mothers breastfeeding their children on a cold beach, for men who nearly drown trying to swim to shore, for children who have no choice but to follow their parents in chasing a future—any future, anywhere.
These people are the real-life versions of the icons that Christians have come to associate with the passion of god as a human. Let us recognize them as such. Let us acknowledge, once and for all, that being a refugee—of war, poverty, or discrimination—is a sheer function of luck, and we did nothing to deserve our better fate. Whenever and wherever humanity is suffering, we are involved, and the responsibility to offer refuge is ours until the least of us have shelter.”
I see nothing more to add to this—this is the ongoing mindset for us at St. Mark’s, whether locally with the homeless, or in the world supporting the refugees to come. AMEN!