I sat down this afternoon to watch my all time favorite movie: Irving Berlin’s White Christmas. I remember writing to the local TV station when I was perhaps 4 to ask them to air it at Christmas and looking at it today I’m struck by how much everything about this movie influenced who I became as an adult from my love of vintage clothing, classic style, and the pinks and greens, to my love for dancing and classic jazz, and a contemplative attention to the identity crisis and challenges many veterans face upon leaving the military. If you’re not familiar with this technicolor musical gem from the early 50’s, the story is this:
Two soldiers see their much loved and respected general retired from the European frontline during WWII on Christmas Eve. After the war they enjoy success as entertainers, which makes the singing and dancing less ridiculous than many other musicals because they’re tied in not by virtue of fitting the overall story but by virtue of being a part of their musical act (there are lots of long, shapely legs and memorable songs). These two even meet the attractive and incredibly talented sisters of an old Army buddy of theirs, “Ol’ freckle-faced Haynes, the dogfaced boy,” before happening to run into that same once general of theirs again.
The general is not enjoying retirement. He seems to have a void of purpose in his life, misses the military, and is on the verge of bankruptcy as his business slowly bleeds to death.
While the two soldiers fall in love with the two attractive sisters they do what they can to help the general out without making it seem like charity. At the same time, the general learns that his hope to return to active duty is not to be fulfilled, and realizing that the parade has passed him by, sinks into a belief that he is no longer of value. The soldiers come up with an idea to surprise the general to let him know he isn’t forgotten but in the process gossip, mistaken information, and conniving schmaltz temporarily get in the way of love but not in the way of helping the general (and not permanently in the way of love either, because it is Hollywood after all).
In the end, dozens of soldiers show up in their pinks and greens *sigh… pinks and greens* to let the general know he is not forgotten, the boys get the girls, snow comes, and the day is saved but not before the two soldiers sing an amusing song that only those in military family totally get: “Gee, I Wish I Was Back in the Army”.
Maybe it’s because of all I’ve endured this last year and the 8 months I’ve spent in deep contemplation about a great many things, but watching White Christmas tonight was like watching it with new eyes and a new perspective.
It made me think about much more than how my love for this movie trickled into my everyday life.
It made me think about what this season truly is to me.
A week and a half ago, I confessed to a friend how difficult I was finding it to feel cheer this holiday season. He (very kindly and graciously) chose not to lecture me about being a Scrooge or validate an excuse to not seek the Christmas spirit (because being a poor amputee going through a lot is a good excuse) but instead chose to gently reminded me what Christmas is really about: the birth of Christ and answering the question of why we exist, why we are here. For Christians, this holiday is more than just a time to be with family, enjoying relationships, togetherness, and the giving of gifts:
For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)
And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:1-14)
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)
For believers, this time celebrates the birth of our Savior but it also reminds us that we can rest in peace that defies logic and despite experiences that try our faith we can live daily in the kind of hope that underpins faith because we know that the right doors at the right times will be presented to us because God keeps His promises:
Christ was promised centuries before He finally came, and He didn’t come the way that was expected.
But it’s still so much more than just the birth of Christ because it is who He is and what He does that impacts who we are and how we choose to live our lives. This season does provide a true opportunity to evaluate our self worth and value of relationships with people close to us because they are the reflection and testimony of who we are in Christ whose birth we celebrate today, and very timely too, considering the fact that in a week’s short time we will all be declaring our resolutions for a better self in the New Year.
But there is one more thing that I think is missing in the hubbub around the commercial Christmas we all know so well. I’m not Catholic, although I did complete the Catechism at a Catholic school, but there is something that has been celebrated in the traditional 12 days of Christmas since the 5th century AD that is a sobering and powerful thing to celebrate:
The Feast of the Holy Innocents
You see, when Christ was born He was the fulfillment of many hundreds of years worth of prophesy and He was to be the King of Kings. When Herod, the puppet king of Israel under the rule of the Romans, heard tales of the Magi seeking the new king and his own priests and teachers found evidence of a new born king, he decided to have all the male children under the age of 2 killed in Bethlehem: he chose to murder an unknown number of innocent children because he was afraid of losing his power and control to the lowly child from a small and insignificant town. The Catholic Church purposefully focuses attention on the innocents that were lost when someone acted in fear instead of faith. This brings me to several thoughts:
How often do we overreact when we fear we are losing control of a situation so that rather than siting in faith and hope we strive to make things right or to force things to go the way we want or expect them to go?
How often do we get so caught up in the happy feelings this season brings that we forget to think of those who are suffering, going through difficult times, or living under oppression when wouldn’t the truly charitable and loving thing to do be to purposefully focus on doing what we can to free those who are oppressed, to help our neighbors through their difficulties, and to comfort those who suffer?
As this day draws to a close, I hope we do not forget that today is much more than silver, gold, and red decorations on evergreen trees and wrapped gifts from those we love.
Christmas reminds us that God keeps His promises and that we can trust Him. It reminds us of who Christ is and why He came. Christmas reminds us of who we are to be because of our relationship with Him. It reminds us to stop striving in fear but rather to live in faith. Finally, it reminds us to look to those who are suffering and in need in our communities and abroad because although we cannot save them all, if we all can do what we can to save some, to serve some, to uplift some, the world will be a better and more beautiful place.
. . .
My thanks to R.A. ~ for giving me permission to share your words (regardless of what value you see in them), for the ongoing conversation, and for making me see things from a different perspective when it’s needed.
(Photo by a 6th grader I know…)