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Opening Up the Truth in Christmas Movies

by Marc T. Newman, Ph.D.

If Christian missionaries were to find themselves among a pre-Christian people group steeped in what you would recognize as contemporary Christmas film mythology, they would have wept at their good fortune. How simple would it be to explain the Fatherhood of God to people who annually retold myths about a benevolent gift giver who kept record of sins, but who wanted to extend grace; or who thrilled to stories about how he sought out those whose faith was weak in order to strengthen them so that they could be in right relationship with him?

The annual Christmas movie ritual is reenacted among Americans every year beginning around Thanksgiving (though it seems to be earlier every year) and continuing through Christmas Day. They gather around big screen televisions to watch, rewatch, or introduce new people to the films that mean "Christmas" to them. Many of the films have Santa Claus as a key character, but a number do not. What almost all of them have in common is an appeal to something beyond this world: something magical, something meaningful, or something lost in a nostalgic past that people very much wish to recover. There is something about Christmas, even the secular, Santa-obsessed part of it, that strains at a thin barrier between the mundane and the transcendent world. And people are aching for Christmas to break through.

And for a few hours, they watch. And for a few hours, they receive. Warm feelings wash over them and they get a glimpse of something they desperately desire, but which is constantly receding. C.S. Lewis called it sehnsucht -- unfulfilled yet delicious longing, and he described it as a sign that there is more to this world than simply what we can see. All other longings have corresponding temporal satisfactions, but the longing for the transcendent cannot be met here, though we do encounter moments that hint at its reality.

Those feelings, stirred by holiday films, can be explained by those who know Jesus. We recognize that there really is an unseen, transcendent world that intersects with our own. We know that there is a Savior and Coming King who stirs excitement among believers. Though we, too, struggle with doubts, we serve a God who loves us and wants to direct our ways. And though we are separated from God by our sin, He has created a means by which we can be reconciled. Some or all of these themes can be found in films as diverse as Elf, The Polar Express, A Christmas Carol and many others. We just have to be willing to discuss the plot beyond the surface.

For a quick example, see our article on The Polar Express

If you want to use Christmas movies as a way to build a bridge to the gospel, MovieBibleStudy has prepared two ways for you to do it. If you focus on Advent, we have a four-study ClipTalk Advent Series. Each study begins with introductory questions leading to your group watching a film clip (you'll need to rent or stream the film), then, using the clip you will explore the theme of the study: anticipation, faith, etc. Once everyone is talking about the theme in the film, you open up the Scriptures to see what God has to say and how it should affect the way we believe, think, and act.

For those wanting more of an "event" we have FilmTalk Bible Studies for a half-dozen popular Christmas films. Each FilmTalk Bible Study covers five spiritual, moral, and ethical themes in the film. The group meets, watches the movie, and then launches into discussion. Often, people who have a hard time speaking up in a traditional Bible study, come to life when talking about a favorite scene or character.

Christmas is a promising time to discuss spiritual themes. People are ready to encounter something beyond themselves. Christians have never shied away from using popular mythology as a bridge to the Gospel. Christmas films are a perfect opportunity to talk to initiate that conversation.  

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