Nothing will be impossible with Christmas movies (or God)

Advent 4

In the name of God, whose love defies reason.  Amen.

I suppose she’s on my mind because I told a story about her a couple of weeks ago, but this morning, my mind turns again to a story from my favorite theologian, Marjorie Suchocki.  This is a bit of a scandalous story, because it directly contradicts the traditional teachings of the church across centuries.

In one of her lectures about reading scripture with a critical eye and with a clear understanding of history and context, she mentioned that the idea of virgin birth wasn’t unique to Christianity.  In fact, around the first century, it was a sort of common literary device used to suggest a figure’s authority.  For example, the Roman emperor was said to have been born of a virgin.

For one man in our group, in particular, this was troubling to hear.  He sort of seemed to feel threatened by the idea that one of the precepts of his faith was being challenged, or maybe even trivialized.  When he pushed back on Dr. Suchocki’s teaching, she got quiet for a moment, crossed her arms pensively, and finally said, “I would suggest to you… that… if your faith is entirely dependent upon Jesus having been born through a woman who was a virgin….  you need a new faith.”

Her point, of course, was that the life and teachings of Jesus transcend any one traditional teaching about him – or even any one singular passage of scripture.  It’s true.  The whole of our Christian faith should not rest on any one aspect of tradition.  If it does – for those for whom it does – faith is shaky; unstable.

But, of course, it’s also true that there is some value to the sort of magical traditions that surround this time of year.

We’ve moved into the time of year in our household where we watch Christmas movies just about every night.  I still mostly resist the “Hallmark” variety whenever I can, but even more mainstream Christmas movies aren’t that far off from the Hallmark ones if we’re being entirely honest.

One of my favorites from the past few years is Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square.  If you haven’t seen it, I commend it to you.  It’s one of those movies that so bad it makes its way back around to being almost good somehow.  But in it, Dolly Parton plays an angel who comes to a town in crisis disguised as a homeless person – albeit a homeless person with a stylish blond wig and a smoky eye…  She sets out to change the heart of the misunderstood landlord in town who is planning to evict everyone just before Christmas.

This year there’s also a couple of new ones.  There’s the Melissa McCarthy movie where she plays a genie who comes to grant wishes for a man whose relationship with his wife and daughter are strained from his working too much.  Or the new Eddie Murphy movie – which could best be described as a sort of Jumanji meets Christmas – where his special ornaments come to life and wreak havoc.

But even the older Christmas movies still share a same sort of theme.  Notably, A Christmas Carol, in all its variations through the years, features three ghosts who come to Ebenezer Scrooge by night to turn his hard heart towards charity and kindness.

Christmas is a time when stories of magic seem to make the most sense.  Maybe it’s because of the biblical stories we hear about virgin births and angels and all of that.  But at a deeper level, I really think it’s because magic is the only way we can begin to make sense of the unreasonable idea that God somehow comes within reach.  God, for whom we make our worship and praise; God, to whom we pray; God, who sometimes seems so distant, is, at this time of year, understood to come near.

Of course we believe that God is always near, but sometimes we miss the clues.  Sometimes we miss the signs.  But at Christmas, we are reminded that somehow, God, who was always near, has made the choice to be near – near even to us. 

It seems beyond our ability to grasp it.  It seems unexplainable.  It feels like magic.

So we use stories and experiences of the impossible to try to wrap our minds around the stories of the seemingly impossible that figure so prominently in our faith this time of year.

But that’s really the crux of the Gospel today.  It’s not so much about the historical accuracy of the biblical account of Jesus’ birth.  It’s not about Elizabeth, Mary’s relative, inexplicably having a child in her old age.  It’s not about any of the specifics of traditional belief, and how they’re explained.  The real focus is in that last couple of lines that we read this morning.  “Nothing will be impossible with God.”

That’s the through-line.  It’s the through-line in the stories around Jesus’ birth, the through-line in the idea of God choosing to be with us, even the through-line of the stories of magic and mystery and impossibility that define this season, even outside the church.

The common thread is that nothing will be impossible with God.  Not Jesus.  Not the incarnation.  Not magic stories of hard hearts being made kind.  It all becomes possible through God.

It’s a simple thought that’s worth holding onto throughout the year – not just at Christmas.  When times are hard; when sadness takes over; when burdens seem too much to bear; even when our own hearts are the ones that need repair – that’s when it’s important to remember that nothing is impossible with God.  God, who chose to walk among us, still chooses to be with us.  God, who chose miracles as the language of incarnation, still chooses to save us through means we can’t fathom.

That’s the magic of Christmas.  That’s the magic that is unfolding around us, even now.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.