Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Lion, the Witches and the Box Office

We begin with the airing of the grievances: some of the worst movies come out around the holidays.  Remember the classics; the ones you can’t wait to see on TV every year?  You know, Santa Buddies, Home Alone 3 and 4; and who could forget Earnest Saves Christmas?  Exactly.  That's what I thought.  But it’s not all sour eggnog at the cinema during the holiday season.  Personally, my Christmas television viewing experience is not complete unless I watch National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, A Christmas Story, Merry Christmas Charlie Brown and my newest favorite, Elf. 
What’s so captivating about the movie theater during the holidays?  Why are we so obsessed with the box office from Black Friday to New Year’s Day?  Maybe it’s because relatives and fish are only good for three days.  Maybe it’s because the movies are great way to spend some time cuddled next to your spouse without the phone ringing, the mall clerks asking if you’d like that gift-wrapped, and you can simply laugh (or cry, it’s ok, guys) a little.  Maybe it’s just plain fun and there’s nothing wrong with that – entertainment (with some exceptions, of course) is all part of God’s gift of vocation.  Like Benjamin Franklin said, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” 
But maybe, and I could be totally wrong here, just maybe there’s a deeper reason that so many people are attracted to movies this time of the year.  If you could talk someone into a corner I bet you would be surprised what they would say.  If you could get a moment of honest clarity, I think one of the reasons people go to the box office like kids on wrapping paper is because they know something is missing in their Christmass, Festivus, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice or Hanukkah celebrations.
People are looking for escape.  On a certain level, there’s nothing wrong with escape.  J.R.R. Tolkien, author of the fantasy epic, Lord of the Rings, once said, ““Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home?  Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about topics other than jailers and prison walls?”[1]  Escape isn’t always shrugging responsibility or running away from your problems.  If the holidays are full of sadness and sorrow it is no wonder people are searching for joy and comfort.  If family life is torn it is no wonder people seek reconciliation anywhere they can get it, even if it is just a few hours in a moderately comfortable stadium seat at Bella Terra.
Think about the kinds of movies that come out this time of time of year: movies about family relationships – love lost and found, old grievances reconciled, the endless search for meaning and happiness,  “chick-flicks” with romance and happily-ever-after endings, and action/adventure movies with battles between good and evil, exemplary displays of self-sacrifice, honor and redemption.  If you ask me, it seems like movies are a pretty good indicator of what is lacking in today’s culture, society, and often closer to home, people’s personal lives. 
In any case, there are hosts of new movies that come out around this time of the year.  Perhaps you’ve been waiting to see Little Fockers, Gulliver’s Travels  or any number of the comic book spin-offs and comfort-movies that are soon to hit the silver screen.  And if you are a bit more on the nerdy side (not that there’s anything wrong with that; it takes one to know one!), you can join in a lively discussion aboutthe Christian themes in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows or the newest release of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
I think these two, out of all the movies released this holiday season, have the most potential to point people in the right direction this Christmass season.  Both Harry Potter and Dawn Treader have Christian themes and messages, some more obvious and significant than others.  But first, here’s a disclaimer: if we look in the box office (no matter how good the movie) for the answers to what’s missing under the Christmas tree  we will always be sorely disappointed.  If we look to movies, even the ones with Biblical references or Christian themes, etc., we will be looking in the wrong place for the recovery, escape and consolation that we so desperately need.  If you're looking for salvation in the box office, you're in the wrong place.  True recovery of our sinful fallen lives comes only in Christ and the clarity of His Word.  True escape from this sinful world comes with the promise of Advent; the Christ who came in the flesh, comes in His Word and will come again in glory.  And true, everlasting consolation is found is found in the “comfort food” of Jesus’ body and blood and in the water poured over your head in the Triune Name. 
So, here are a few questions you can ask yourself as you sit in the theater waiting for that secret scene after the credits roll.  Was there any Biblical references or imagery in this movie – and if so – does it make the cut when it comes to Scripture’s confession of faith?  What about the Creed or the Small Catechism?  In general, were there any themes of death and resurrection, or self-sacrifice or good versus evil, and of course, the happily-ever-after-ending?  Where exactly do you think these themes are from?  Not to mention, ff you’ve seen or read both The Deathly Hallows and Dawn Treader many of these themes are both on the surface and integral to the sub-plot.  For example, if you see the newest Narnia movie, ask yourself this question: how is Eustace’s “transformation” a good image of Baptism?  Or, in what ways does Reepicheep resemble Elijah?  How is Aslan the Christ figure?  In other words, how do Aslan's words to Lucy and Edmund at the end of Dawn Treader ring true?
  "Dearest," said Aslan very gently, "you and your brother will never come back to Narnia."
"Oh, Aslan!! said Edmund and Lucy both together in despairing voices.
"You are too old, children," said Aslan, "and you must begin to come close to your own world now."
"It isn't Narnia, you know," sobbed Lucy.  "It's you.  We shant meet you there.  And how can we live, never meeting you?"
"But you shall meet me, dear one," said Aslan.
"Are - you there too, Sir?" said Edmund.
"I am," said Aslan.  "But there I have another name.  You must learn to know me by that name.  This was the very reason you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little while, you may know me better there."
And if I haven’t lost you by this point, I might as well ask, what is the significance of scenes like the one in the newest Harry Potter movie, where he’s standing by his parent’s headstone staring at the words: “The last enemy to be destroyed is death?”
            The good news is, this Christmass, your happiness, your sanity, your family life and all you have is not dependent upon the box office sales.  True peace and contentment, everlasting consolation and salvation is found in the greatest gift of all time: God wrapped in swaddling clothes, clothed in your humanity, born to suffer and die for you.  From the bosom of the Father to the bosom of Mary, He came in the flesh, He comes in Word and Sacrament and He will come again.  Christmass is all about giving and receiving.  Thanks be to God we are on the receiving end of His abundant mercy.  During this holiday season, rejoice: you are Baptized.  You are God’s own child.  Therefore, everything you say and do is seen, understood and confessed within this identity.  So, when you go to the movies this holiday season – 3-D or not - remember to take your “Lutheran theology glasses” with you.

[1] J.R.R. Tolkien, On Fairy Stories.

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