What if we got the debate backwards?

 

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It’s almost become a herald of Christmas…the debate begins. “Is Die Hard a Christmas movie?” Honestly, I think those of us who remember it hitting cinemas in the summer of 1988 are the hardest to convince. Everyone else is like – “Huh? Of course it is a Christmas movie!”

As Reginald VelJohnson, who played Sgt. Al Powel, said this year… “It’s set at Christmas time, it’s full of Christmas music. And – John McClane’s wife is named HOLLY!” Debate over?

Well…what if it’s the wrong debate. What if we should consider the possibility that Christmas is a form of Die Hard? I don’t mean the modern trappings of Christmas…I mean the Bible’s description of the birth and life of Jesus? What if this story…has more similarities to the movie…than we realise?

 

Remember, Die Hard is basically a tale about an everyman cop from New York, coming to LA to meet his estranged wife Holly Gennero with the hope that they will rebuild their marriage. Hans Gruber and his group of entertaining thieves disrupt the party at Nakatomi. And very quickly “move up” from thievery to terrorism, murder and kidnapping. McClane crawls through ducts, is ripped to shreds by broken glass, is tricked by Hans Gruber (Bill Clay), and is horrified at the prospect of jumping from the top of the building before the roof blows off. He’s frustrated in his attempts to save Holly by:

  • the terrorists (Who says we’re terrorists?)
  • the media (Did ya get that?)
  • the police (I’ve got 100 people down here and they are covered in glass!)
  • the FBI (You asked for miracles? I give you the FBI).

Yet McClane is supported and encouraged by the help and encouragement of a second everyman – Sgt. Al Powell, who is just a simple beat cop with a desk job, constantly on the radio and ready with words of encouragement. Yet he’s also ready to beat his own demons and saving McClane at the end by shooting the last remaining bad guy.

If ever there was a movie with the message that, “The everyman has the power to beat the odds and save the day”…it’s got to be Die Hard?

 

If ever there was a story that says an everyman has the potential to transform the world…its Christmas.

 

Jesus’ Birth was a Struggle

Jesus’ mother Mary has a struggle on her hands to find a safe place to rest and give birth. Jesus’ entry into this world is a race against the clock…it’s touch and go from the start, and they had obstacles to overcome on the way

“…the time came…she gave birth to a son…and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel.” (Luke 2:7, The Msg)

 

The Local Authorities Decided to Eliminate the Baby

Unwittingly, some scholars who had been waiting for the birth of an important child told King Herod about it. Herod quickly decided he would “move up” from being an unpleasant ruler, to practicing infanticide. He arranged for all the newborns in the small hamlet of Bethlehem to be killed, in the hope that Jes/us was amongst them. While he missed his target…I do like to think that Alan Rickman would have played an excellent Herod (I’m going to count to three. There will not be a four.)

“Herod … flew into a rage [and] commanded the murder of every little boy” (Matt. 2:16, The Msg)

 

Jesus Lived the Life of an Everyman

We don’t know a lot about what he did as a child. There are clear hints he possessed wisdom beyond his years. Yet, he lived and worked in a humble setting as a carpenter, surely the most normal occupation at that time?  He was such a no one, that when his public ministry began, many in his community refused to take him seriously.

“What’s this wisdom that has been given him? … Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas…” (Mark 6:2-3, NIV)

 

Yet this everyman recognised our danger, and chose to save us from it

Ironically, the work Jesus was born for did not involve “waxing terrorists”. It did, however, involve doing the hard job of making a way for us to escape the danger we face.

I’m always struck by the scene at the end of Die Hard when, after Gruber’s death, people are able to finally walk out of the building to safety. McClane saved them from a fiery, roof top death. The FBI guys weren’t so lucky (We’re gonna need some more FBI guys, I guess?). And Sgt. Powell finally brought an end to Karl, who managed to struggle out of the building with murderous rage in his eyes. The FBI were happy losing 25% of the civilians…but John McClane and Al Powell managed to save everyone!

The Bible’s message about Jesus’ mission is that he came to save everyone from the destructive effects of our broken lives…our ongoing decision to reject God and live life our own way… and all the pain that this brings. Jesus made a way out of this doomed building for us so that we could walk to safety at the end of our lives. So that our own story has a happy ending.

We thought he was an everyman. But actually – he was our personal saviour. And there’s nothing ordinary about that.

“She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21, NIV)

 

You know…here’s a final thought. Maybe all of our myths and stories of the everyman facing down incredible odds to save the day for us…have a single root. They are actually rooted originally in the life of that carpenter Jesus who was born in Bethlehem, and whose life, death and resurrection still resonates in our word today?

Inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming a ‘sub-creator’ and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall. Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour…” J R R Tolkein

All Aboard!

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Watching Robert Zemeckis’ “Polar Express” on Christmas Eve with little ones…has to rank up there as one of the most magical experiences. I’ve done this with two generations of children in my family, and the wonder that has been produced is just glorious and contagious.

This movie was cutting edge when it was release in 2004, employing new motion capture technology to computer animation in surprising and wonderful ways. And – showing Tom Hanks in a surprising number of roles.

The story follows the experience of children who are given the opportunity to travel to the North Pole on Christmas Eve to witness the start of Santa’s journey to deliver presents to children across the world. They experience some quite hair raising experiences on the way. Some of them are epistemological in nature…is this experience real or not? Is Santa real or not, and do I really know the truth about what’s happening? Some of the experience are just plain scary…when things go wrong and the train seems derailed and doomed to crash. Yet – they somehow manage to stay on the tracks. Even when the children get to their destination…the accidents continue and they find themselves rattling down the tracks into the bowels of the city alone and frightened. Yet – despite this mishap – they somehow find themselves in the centre of Santa’s Christmas project … and join him in time for his departure.

This movie is not just entertaining because of the reactions it produces from little ones. It’s a great tale in its own right. And – it touches some very foundational needs within us the audience. As the children are given a parting exhortation from the conductor to LEARN…to RELY ON…to LEAD and to BELIEVE…we sense that the filmmaker is also talking to us too.

This movie doesn’t just touch on personal needs, it also reflects some important aspects of the Christian message.

First – the most valuable things in life are the ones we don’t yet see. Our hero is struggling with his belief in Santa…and the scary hobo he meets on the journey feeds his fearful scepticism. “Seeing is believing.” Yet the ultimate message of this movie, and the Conductor of the train, is that “sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see.”

In the end, it wasn’t belief in Santa that was the biggest thing. It was belief in their calling in life to lead, to trust, to learn and to believe.

For us, the most valuable parts of life tend to be the things we can’t measure and quantify. The love you feel for the children you are sharing this movie with – the hopes you have for their future lives – the precious memories of Christmases in the past.

And the God who knows us and loves us:

Jesus said, “So, you believe because you’ve seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.” John 20:29, Msg

Second – we each carry personal responsibility in life. Our choices matter. The movie communicates this clearly. Is our hero going to board the train or not? What’s more…is he going to choose to believe…or give up his belief in Santa? And yet – the positive results of continued belief are real. He does get to meet Santa in the end…he sees him with his own eyes. And so his decision to continue to believe is clear.

The other children on the train faced similar choices. Would the little girl exercise leadership, even though it got her into trouble? Would the little kid from the other side of the tracks…decide to trust his new friends even though he wasn’t sure he could?

We each carry personal responsibility for our choices. Some people asked Jesus:

“What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” John 6:28-29, NIV.

Third – there’s a theme that runs through the movie from start to end. Is this experience real…or is it simply a dream? The more fantastical things get…the less likely its real. Right? Well, the message of the movie is the opposite. Grasp hold of this, even though you aren’t sure its true. Let the truth of this experience reveal itself to you.

Fourth – stuff happens in this film that is sure to derail everything…yet it doesn’t. They are sure to be blocked by a herd of animals and miss Santa, or drown in a lake and die. They are sure not to arrive at their destination at all. And yet…they do. And they don’t just find themselves there on the side lines. In spite of all the mishaps they experienced, they eventually find themselves sitting in Santa’s present sack…at the very centre of the big man’s mission.

We are sure to experience multiple setbacks in life. We can find ourselves in a position where we are sure we have blown it for good. But from God’s perspective, no situation is too far gone. His guiding hand can lead us through any situation we find ourselves struggling through.

“The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” Deuteronomy 33:27

Fifth – I had it once. But now…have I lost it? Our hero leaves the North Pole shocked and saddened at the thought of losing his special gift from Santa. And yet, before the credits roll, he realises that once the big man gives you something, he makes sure you get it…whether or not you have a hole in your dressing gown pocket.

Life used to make sense to me. But lately…things just seem to be going from bad to worse. The God we read about in the Bible makes promises to us that apply an important idea to our lives. The whole story of the Bible is about mankind having everything and yet rejecting their relationship with God. But it’s God himself who takes on the responsibility to rescue us from the broken existence that has resulted from our decision. He calls us to safety, and promises to do what it takes to keep us safe.

“May God himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together – spirit, soul and body – and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ. The One who called you is completely dependable. If he said it, he’ll do it!” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, The Message)

However our life looks right now – hope is found in God. He longs for us to get on board with him this holiday season.

Happy Christmas!