Please be seated. I’m now going to really mix things up by preaching first, and then, as you remain seated, reading the Christmas Gospel. I’m asking you to hear it, not as a formal reading by me, but as a wonderful story that has been told countless times over 2000 years. And we all enjoy a good story.
But first, let's go to the movies.
There have been some big movies released over the past year: Star Trek, District 9, Up in the Air, and Avatar being the latest. But I wonder how many of them will still be popular, and still be watched in over sixty years time?
Like the Miracle on 34th Street. It’s trite, corny, satirical and political all rolled into one – but as a piece of screenplay it’s absolutely brilliant! And the stunning conclusion by the judge:
Since the United States government declares this man
to be Santa Claus...this court will not dispute it. Case dismissed.
We all know the story. How Chris Kringle is proven to be the real Santa Claus. Yet we sometimes forget that there are equally brilliant cameo scenes leading up to the more famous courtroom trial. One that stands out for me takes place near the beginning of the movie, when Fred Gailey (played by John Payne) takes Suzie to see the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Suzie is the daughter of the Event Director, Doris walker (Maureen O’Hara) who is, like many corporate executives, far too busy with her career to spend time with her daughter. And certain truths emerge when the huge baseball player is carried down the street.
Suzie was quick to point out:
He was a clown last year. They just changed the head
and painted him different. My mother told me.
Fred could only say: He certainly is a giant, isn't he?
But Suzie took offense at this: Not really. There are no giants, Mr. Gailey.
FRED: Maybe not now, Suzie... but in olden days, there were a lot of...
What about the giant that Jack killed?
It was lost on the little girl: Jack? Jack who?
FRED: Jack... Jack! "Jack and the Beanstalk."
SUZIE: I never heard of that.
FRED: You must've heard that. You've just forgotten. It's a fairy tale.
SUZIE: Oh, one of those. I don't know any.
GAILEY: Your mother and father must have told you a fairy tale.
SUZIE: No. My mother thinks they're silly.
Her mother thought that they were silly, and a few scenes later she, Doris Walker, spells out her creed:
We should be realistic... and completely truthful with our children and not have them growing up believing in... a lot of legends and myths like Santa Claus, for example.
Well, we all know that she was wrong, don’t we? But that’s what makes the movie so much fun.
But there is a serious side to it all, which points to the fact, then and now, that stories can be dismissed out of hand, even if they belong to the imagination and not to real life. All of us (and perhaps we even do it ourselves at times) know people who have the need to always be completely rational, demand explanations, and ask for proof. That is the modern way of thinking. Being realistic, and completely truthful in a very scientific, un-imaginary way.
When it comes to the Christmas story, which is a long way indeed from legend and myth, we have a tendency to do the same. To pick it apart, and even dismiss it at times as being a very pleasant tale, but not much more than that.
Parts of it warrant criticism, for it is a story written by humans who are attempting to describe something that is divine. And human words cannot always contain the divine word.
Yet this story, timeless and full of truth, is told again, year after year. Somehow we never get tired of it, and with the specialness of Christmas morning I can think of no better story to read.
It is s story that tells of the birth of a baby in hard times, and which also tells of the greatest of all announcements – that this is none other than the Messiah, the Lord.
This is how Luke, the Gospel writer, tells it….