Christmas Plot

The Hallmark Channel’s 10th Countdown to Christmas has begun. Actually, they began their series of Christmas movies before Halloween while you weren’t looking.

Maybe you still aren’t looking, because you’ve already seen that movie. Aren’t all those Hallmark movies really the same? The title is a pun, like “Write before Christmas.” A career woman in the big city is a workaholic, a distraction from her sad and unfulfilled life. She has to go home around the holidays. Her family’s land or business are in jeopardy. The picturesque little town is decorated like a greeting card, naturally. A cute animal appears. A handsome widower is raising his daughter as a single parent. The child introduces the two and they all have a snowy adventure. They argue. She bakes something. They kiss. Santa winks. She decides to stay and help the family. Bring down the lights, the show’s over.

What is so appealing about that formula? Conflicts are resolved. Relationships are mended. Sad people find joy. A child’s needs are met. People display honesty and love because relationships matter. Those are real desires, met not by watching a movie but by living life God’s way. The Bible uses the words “one another” over 50 times, exhorting us to forgive, accept, admonish, and serve. It says we bear burdens and bear with one another. Jesus wraps these into one, “love one another, just as I have loved you” (John 15:12), meaning selflessly and sacrificially. For today’s culture, it’s worth noting that real love is not easily offended (1 Cor. 13:5).

Those “one another” things are more noticeable around Christmas. Max Lucado writes, “The magical dust of Christmas glittered on the cheeks of humanity ever so briefly, reminding us of what is worth having and what we were intended to be. We forgot our compulsion with winning, wooing, and warring. We stepped off our race tracks and roller coasters and looked outward toward the star of Bethlehem. For a few precious hours our heavenly yearnings intermesh and we become a chorus, banking that Bethlehem’s mystery is a reality.” And we sing, “O come let us adore Him” to the One who inspires angels and humans to rejoice.

Life deals both regrets and longings, hurts and hopes, failures and dreams. You yearn for your story to include conflict resolved, wounds forgiven, and sadness displaced by childlike joy. That, actually, is not a fantasy. The Advent, the first coming of God the Son is a celebration of that very plot. Those yearnings all point to the same thing: peace on earth, peace with God, peace for eternity. The appearance, death, resurrection, and return of Jesus is the divine plot, “foreknown before the foundation of the world” (1 Pet.1:20) to bring such a peace. Those events that inspire faith, hope, and love in us are the original and real Christmas plot.

Hope and Truth

Kanye West just released his much-anticipated album, “Jesus is King.” His conversion to Christianity has been met with both enthusiasm and skepticism.  As a cultural influencer, is he a shrewd businessman or a transparent truth-seeker?  Time will tell, as for all of us who “run with endurance the race set before us” (Heb. 12:1).

In the midst of cultural confusion, West is on a mission to bring hope to his fans. On the track, “God Is,” he says, “Every man, every woman there is freedom from addiction.”  Lyrics in “On God” include, “His light shine the brightest in the dark.  Single mothers know they got my heart.  And all my brothers locked up on the yard you can still be anything you wanna be.”  Hope without truth is a false hope.  West is speaking to a pop culture that finds hope elusive because it no longer believes in truth.  I admire his determination to use his platform to change that.

Abdu Murray describes the cultural confusion this way: “We’ve so obsessed over the freedom to do what we want that we’ve neglected the freedom to do what we should. To wrap our minds around what it means to be human, we’ve focused narrowly on brain chemistry, thereby reducing ourselves to freedomless chemical machines.  This in turn leads us to contradictorily conclude that with regard to sexual and gender identity we’re ‘born that way’ but should be allowed to explore as many sexual or gender expressions as we want.   We give lip service to respecting all religions only to turn against a particular religion if it doesn’t line up with our irreligious autonomy.”  That is hopeless.

Atheist philosopher and former Italian Senator Marcello Pera opposes these cultural confusions of post-modernism and relativism. It’s counterintuitive that he as an atheist would conclude that the antidote is Christianity.  He writes, “If we live as Christians, we will be wiser and more aware of the dangers we face.  We will not separate morality from truth.  We will not confuse moral autonomy with any free choice.  We will not treat individuals, whether the unborn or the dying, as things. We will not allow all desires to be transformed into rights.  We will not confine reason within the boundaries of science.”

Who knew that an Italian atheist philosopher and an American rapper would agree that Christian truth is good for people today? It is the means to the much sought-after hope.  West’s “Selah” lyrics say, “They say the week start on Monday but the strong start on Sunday.  Won’t be in bondage to any man. John 8:33. We the descendants of Abraham. Ye should be made free. John 8:36. To whom the Son set free is free indeed. He saved a wretch like me.”  If you believe that, you have found hope and Truth.


Suffering Cynicism

A friend and I stopped at a small, mom and pop restaurant. While waiting for our order, the proprietor sauntered over to our table to amuse us with a math challenge.

As he explained it, three men went to an inn and procured a room for $30, which they split equally. Later the innkeeper gave the bellhop $5 to return to the men. The bellhop decided to return $1 to each man, meaning each man paid only $9. So, $9×3=$27, the bellhop kept $2, so that makes $29. The final dollar disappeared, he said.

It turns out that I had heard this framing trick before, and my friend is a math teacher. So we laughed politely, and quickly unraveled the problem for him. To our astonishment, he became agitated and insisted, “No, that’s not right! Numbers lie, and you can’t trust math!” We explained again, and he retorted that he’d told this story many times and we were the only ones that wouldn’t admit the dollar was indeed lost in the mysteries of math.

The proprietor derived a certain ironic pleasure from the trick, which to him was not a trick at all. For him to believe the truth we presented plainly to him on the back of a napkin meant that he would have to admit error and abandon his arrogant conclusion that you can’t trust math.

I heard it said once that a skeptic doesn’t believe what is true and a cynic doesn’t care what is true. Our restaurateur clearly didn’t care to consider the truth about the math because that would have damaged his sense of superiority over math and affected his ability to impress customers with cleverness. He was a suffering cynic.

Jesus made a blind man see. The man and his parents knew who did it. But under withering inquisition, the parents refused to admit the truth. To say anything good about Jesus would mean a fall in their standing in the community. Their son told everything he knew, but his questioners would not accept it. To do so would mean their standing would change as well. The cost of truth was too high for them.

Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see” (John 9:39). Seeing and accepting the truth about Jesus has a cost, the loss of standing and respect in a culture increasingly hostile to people of faith. But to ignore Jesus’ claims for that reason is to suffer as a cynic, and a hostage to the fear of shame. The mistake cynics make about Jesus is not realizing that the benefits of faith far outweigh the cost.

We could have told the proprietor that we didn’t care if our check was right and refuse to pay. But we aren’t cynics.