December 23, 2013

I am NOT Ready!

Every year I say I am in love with the Christmas season, but the truth bears itself out the closer I get to the actual day of celebration. Yes, I am in LOVE with the person we celebrate each December 25th, but I am not in love with the holiday itself. In fact, I find this time of the year stressful and unpleasant. I do enjoy decorating, and I have enjoyed putting up lights on our house, setting up the tree, getting the red candles out and placing them around the family areas. All of this decorating is enjoyable, and I do like the twinkling lights -- especially at night. Somehow, though, the season wears me out. I find myself grumpier each year, and more and more I feel like a SCROOGE who wants to say "Bah Humbug!" instead of "Joyeux Noel!"

Two nights ago, I watched Gary Grant and Loretta Young in the Samuel Goldwyn production of "The Bishop's Wife" (1947). I had that nostalgic feeling and I wanted to watch something "Christmas-y" on TV.  It has been a long time since I last saw this movie, and while I remembered the plot (thanks in part to the sappy 1996 remake, "The Preacher's Wife" with Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston"), I didn't really remember the STORY.

As I watched the original film, I was struck by the sincerity of the performances, and by the overt Christianity portrayed in it. David Niven (The Bishop) is an Anglican priest who is obsessed with building a monument to his community and his calling (a Cathedral). His wife, played by Loretta Young, is in love with him, and wants him to spend more time with her and their child. In addition, she misses the "old priest" who always had time for his parishioners and who had a deep concern for the poor and homeless. The story hits the mark in that it portrays the true Spirit of Christmas -- not the commercialized tradition we celebrate today.

Gary Grant, who plays "Dudley," the angel sent from heaven to help guide David Niven, and give hope to Loretta Young, is superb in this role. He is charming (as always), but sweetly sincere as he helps the couple come to see their purpose and God's plan for their lives. One of my favorite scenes is when Dudley tells the story of David and the Lion to the Bishop's daughter. The little girl is enraptured by the lively retelling of the story, and both parents stand by in awe as they listen to the way Dudley tells the girl about how David saved one lost sheep by his brave act of facing a roaring lion. When Dudley asks the Bishop to "finish the story" for little Debbie, the Bishop curtly remarks that he is too busy to do so. Yes, the Bishop's problem is that he is too busy doing "God's work" to share the very message that could help guide him. He asked God for guidance -- and when it is given in the form of a child's Bible story -- he rejects it as unimportant and not worthy of his time. Had he listened more carefully, he would have heard the message: stop building monuments, and return to your former work -- the ministry of the lost.

What stands out for me in this movie is the way in which the story of Christmas (the birth of Christ) is woven into the ministry of Christmas -- the truth that God sent His Only Son to save the lost. The message of John 3:16 is clearly played out through the work of the church. We are called to love the lost, to help the homeless, and to shelter the widow, the orphan, and the poor. Oh, how I wish this were true today! Oh, how I wish we would take the baby out of the cradle, and let Him live in and through us all year long. Jesus came to save the lost, to restore and to reach the broken. We are called, those of us who bear His Name, to do the same. We are to minister to those who need ministering most!

Yet, instead of ministering to the poor and the downtrodden, we choose to argue over comments made by TV Reality stars, and blame our President and Congress for their human failings and illogical decisions and laws. Wouldn't it be something if all Christians abstained from traditions of the Christmas holiday, and focused instead on giving away the message and sharing the ministry of Christ? Perhaps I wouldn't feel so blah this time of year?

Note to self - next year, serve others instead of yourself. Share and minister to those who are less fortunate, and give away the gift that God has given so freely to you -- the gift of GRACE.

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