Pastor Tristan Sherwin
CHRISTMAS AT THE MOVIES
Christmas Day is only 7 more sleeps away. And yes, when it comes to the presents, we have to wait (sorry kids). But when it comes to things like listening to Christmas music, eating mince pies, putting up decorations and lights, then we have already been enjoying (or enduring, as the case may be) those things for some weeks now.
In our house, one Christmas indulgence we always enjoy before Christmas day is Christmas films. I don’t mean films you watch at Christmas, like Star Wars and Indiana Jones. But Christmas-themed movies.
We’re not alone in this indulgence. Apparently, in the UK, our love for Christmas films gets bigger every year. According to one list, the top ten favourite Christmas films in the UK in 2021 were as follows:
It’s a Wonderful Life
Miracle on 34th Street
Muppet’s Christmas Carol
In some ways, this list is surprising—shocking, really. No mention of Gremlins! And how can The Holiday not be in the top ten? It’s far better than Love Actually.
Most of all, where’s Die Hard?
In other ways, this list isn’t that surprising. With the exception of Love Actually, these are great films.
Because we love Christmas films, this means that there are people who make a career out of seeking to understanding why we love them.
According to these “experts”, there are a host of reasons.
Some say it’s the nostalgia—these films take us back to fond memories. For others, it’s because they’re fun, warm and uplifting.
Some “experts”, however, say it’s because, in comparison to the real world, where everything can be strenuous and complex, Hollywood’s Christmas version of the world is easier to navigate. Sure, Christmas movies may contain crises and trauma, but, unlike our world, everything is sorted out within an hour and thirty minutes and all is well.
According to these “experts”, we escape into these films because they present an alternate reality—a world with no dark side, with no hanging questions, with no lingering pain—and they help us to forget, or maybe deny, the present darkness of our own reality.
HOPES AND FEARS
I don’t think the “experts” are right. Maybe there are some who use the glamour and clamour of Christmas to pretend that the darkness does not exist. However, most of us, I suspect, feel it sharply. We know there is no denying it.
Some of us have had a horrendous year. Some of us are going through dark times of pain and sorrow. We have experienced loss. Or we are worried about the cost of living. Or we feel isolated, confused and afraid.
The darkness is so tangible, at times, that all the glamour and clamour of Christmas feels out of place; like major keys in a minor season.
We feel the discordance—we are supposed to.
I want you to know that the heart of Christmas is not about pretending the darkness does not exist. Even the Christmas story, the story of Jesus’ birth, the story we’ve been talking and singing about tonight, acknowledges the pain, despair and sorrow in our world. Jesus is not born into a perfect, “Hollywood” world, but a wailing one; a world full of hanging questions, lingering pain and dark sides.
Christmas is not a denial of the darkness; at Christmas, more than ever, we are alerted to its presence. But at Christmas, we also acknowledge that there is a light in the midst of this darkness.
As someone who has always been afraid of the dark, one of the greatest Christmas presents I ever got as a child was a torch. When the house went dark, because it was bedtime or through the annual Christmas power cut, I would reach for this torch.
It met me in the midst of my fears and it gave me hope. My experience has been that, in the darkness, even a little light goes a long way.
The torch made the world a different place. It helped me see that the gloom wasn’t permanent. It helped me realise that the gloom wasn’t all there was. There was more to reality than what I could make out in the dark. Using my torch, I was aware of the darkness, but it wasn’t overwhelming anymore.
LIGHT OF THE WORLD
In the little of village of Bethlehem, during the dark hours of the night, the hopes and fears of all the years met when Jesus was born. Because of God’s tender mercy, God, in Jesus, came to be a light to you and to me, and to all those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death (Lk. 2:78-79).
There’s a lot I could say about who Jesus is, what he did, why it matters—more than I have time for here.
Jesus did say some startling things about himself, though. He claimed to forgive sins. He claimed to offer eternal life. He claimed to be the truth. He claimed to offer new beginnings, even from the darkest and bleakest of circumstances.
One of his most amazing claims was when he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never stumble in the darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12)
At another time, Jesus said, “I have come as a light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in darkness.” (John 12:46, NET)
It’s not God’s desire or plan that you sit in the darkness.
I have no idea what you’re currently facing, and I certainly can’t promise you that it will be over in 1 hour and 30 minutes. However, I do know that God wants to light up your world. In the midst of whatever darkness you find yourself in, Jesus invites you, not to pretend the darkness doesn’t exist, but to embrace him and walk in the light he offers.
Lord God, we have heard many things tonight, and I’m aware that it’s easy for tomorrow to turn what is clear to us now into a hazy memory. Holy Spirit, come and seal what we have heard tonight. May our hearts be opened and flooded with the vibrant light and life that has come to us in our Saviour, Jesus Christ. This Christmas, and beyond this Christmas, may all of us become aware and be transformed by the gifts of Divine love, forgiveness and life. Amen.
“Arise! Shine! For your light arrives! The splendor of the Lord shines on you! For, look, darkness covers the earth and deep darkness covers the nations, but the Lord shines on you; his splendor appears over you. Isaiah 60:1-2 (NET)