To Those Who Don't Get It, from God with Love
based on John 1:6-8, 19-28
Christmas is a great time for movies, at least those who create movies believe that Christmas is a great time for movies. The custom is that Christmas and the time before Christmas is when a flurry of new screen presentations debuts. From this creative presentation of popular artistic interpretation of what is appropriate for viewing during the Christmas season comes a developing tradition of movies to be seen for Christmas in succeeding years. Miracle on 34th Street is a tradition in many homes, as is It's a Wonderful Life, as is A Christmas Story.
A few years ago, one of Hollywood's yearly Christmas gifts was a bit different. This project, as the movie industry calls its products, was a stop action animated feature that combined aspects of our culture that we do not usually consider compatible or easy to place in the same sentence. The move is called The Nightmare before Christmas, and it does have a following that proclaims this to be a classic, of some sort. I said that there is a following that declares this movie to be a classic, but there is confusion as to how to categorize this film. Is a Christmas movie?
It is and it isn't. Where does it fit?
I have to admit that I first saw this movie with some trepidation because I was not sure about a plot in which Halloween takes over Christmas would have much value. I did hear that it was fairly good, and it did have a message. I saw it and it does.
The story is interesting. In the land of Halloween where all the figures of Halloween live, the acknowledged great figure is Jack Skeleton who is bored with the sameness of Halloween. Jack accidentally falls into the land of Christmas where he is bedazzled and inspired by what he sees and experiences there.
When Jack Skeleton returns to the land of Halloween, he tries to explain what he has seen and felt. The problem is that he has had just a glimpse of the giving and joy and hope of Christmas which he is trying to explain to a people knowing only darkness and terror. Is it any wonder that the people of Halloween don't quite understand, that they don't get it, any more than Jack Skeleton does?
Is it any wonder that the attempt of the people of Halloween to duplicate
the gifts of Christmas is to produce horrors and monsters, that the best
they can offer is macabre and dark?
The Nightmare before Christmas is not considered a religious movie, but it is true that all literature is a reflection of the author's religious and spiritual depth, even if negative, even if incidental, even if accidental. The Nightmare before Christmas is about the issues of darkness and light, good and evil, hope and joy. Those who live in darkness and terror do seek for light and hope, even if they do not understand it, even if they turn what they seek into a bizarre reflection of what they are. Jack Skeleton tries to replace Santa Claus. Jack is shot down, literally, by antiaircraft guns. I wonder if it is a coincidence that Jack lands in the arms of an angel, a statue in a cemetery? What Jack Skeleton learns is that he cannot be Santa Claus. He can only point to Santa Claus. Jack can only tell, as well as he can, of the reality that he has seen. Jack must learn who he is, who he is not, and point to what he has seen.
I think now that I can try to categorize The Nightmare before Christmas. I think it fits well into a category that we do not hear much about. I think The Nightmare before Christmas could be an Advent movie or an Advent parable. Consider this. The inhabitants of the land of Halloween are not totally evil. They were raised in a land of darkness and horror, but some are good. They live as well as they know how. They are attracted to the vision of Christmas, even if they don't get it. Did the people of Halloween do any worse than what we have done with Christmas?
Have we also turned Christmas into something that is a bizarre reflection of
what we are more than what Christmas is?
Then there is the figure of Jack Skeleton who tries to explain his vision of Christmas, a vision so contrary to what is real in the land of Halloween that he could not have made it up. Jack Skeleton sounds somewhat like John the Baptist crying in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord. There is a difference, of course. John the Baptist knew that he was not the light. According to the Gospel of John, the Baptist knew also that he was not the Messiah, not Elijah the prophet, nor the prophet expected before Elijah. John the Baptist did not fit into any expected religious category. When asked who he is, John the Baptist said only , "I am a voice . . . " John proclaimed that among us is one that we do not know but for whom we wait.
There is something else. At about the time that the movie The Nightmare
before Christmas came out, a book appeared titled Why Christians Still Don't
Get It. According to the author, in a secular society where everything comes
for a price, where it is assumed that no one does anything for nothing, a
message of a free gift of God's love and forgiveness and transforming power
is so contrary to the world's understanding of reality that the Christian
message of free grace and salvation and new beginnings sound ludicrous or
naive or suspicious, not just to the world but perhaps also to many
Christians who join the world in searching for a price tag on God's love. It
is somewhat like the people of Halloween not quite getting the essence of
Christmas. Could it be that we are more like the people of Halloween than we
John the Baptist was not the light. John confessed this, but he also knew who he was: he was a voice proclaiming what is coming. John the Baptist could not be the light, but he could point to the light sent by God. He could be a witness to the light that is coming into the world. This is what the church is and does. We are not the light. We are voices and witnesses to what we have seen and felt and experienced, and we try to pass on the vision and reality of what we have glimpsed in a world still dark and still longing for that which they do not know. The Good News is that although we and all the world may be the people who do not get it, we do not have to "get it," to totally understand, even to adequately understand, in order to receive what comes from God with love. We are not pretending that Christ has never come, although many still do not know this. We are witnesses to the light that is among us, even if unrecognized. We confess that we do not have any power. We confess that we have nothing to offer, except our witness. Oh, but what freedom and relief this gives us to know that we are not the ones who must make everything right by our own power because God Almighty, God All-loving, God All Present, is stirring up the darkness with the light of Jesus Christ. We have seen the light and we have heard the voice and we have felt the love that God sends to us which is eternal and divine and true.
The world does not understand? Does that matter? Is it any wonder? God loves the world. God loves us. That is what matters. The Spirit of the Lord is loose in the universe, in our world, and in our time. Light breaks forth from darkness, joy from sorrow, hope from despair, and divinity from flesh through Jesus Christ. The Spirit of the Lord will not be silenced nor stopped. God is with us- Emmanuel. The world is in the hands of God and we are the witnesses to what God does.
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.
The Light is come into the world. Go forth. Be a witness to the Light. Be a voice proclaiming Good News. The Holy Spirit stirs within your heart. Christ is in our midst.
Amen and Amen.