CULTURE | Ben McEachen
Saturday 26 December 2015
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. From online ads to window displays, the trappings of Christmas remind us it’s time again to give gifts, eat too much and argue with relatives we’ve avoided all year.
Not being cynical about Christmas can be a full-time job. Joyfully celebrating the reason for the season gets smothered by credit card ker-chings and the stress of entertaining. Commercialisation and consumption can choke the Jesus out of Christmas, leaving us to suspect it is only an elaborate scam for our dollars.
We need an antidote. An injection of gospel goodness. But where from? How about some of this year’s most notable movies? While none of them aim to be Christmas Day sermons, they offer memorable opportunities to ponder and discuss key elements of Jesus’ all-important birth.
The fourth visit to the world of Jurassic Park was 2015’s most successful film. Almost $1.7 billion came Jurassic World’s way, despite repeating many elements from earlier Jurassic films. One of these elements was “playing God”. Like other movies this year (Chappie, Avengers: Age of Ultron), Jurassic World hinged on people trying to create and control lifeforms.
We don’t even have to watch these films to know things go bad, quickly, when humans play God. History tells the same story, such as the Old Testament’s reports of dire consequences for trying to overthrow God.
The perils of playing God in Jurassic World should have us breathing a sigh of relief about Jesus’ arrival. Read the first chapter of Luke and marvel at God being God in his selection and sending of the Saviour we need. No human has the power, intellect or love to do such a thing.
Christmas is a wondrous time to see, through Jesus, that only God is God.
One of the year’s most underrated yet affecting films was written and directed by Australian actor Joel Edgerton. He also stars as a strange bloke who brings presents to a married couple. These unexpected presents reveal secrets about past sins committed by the husband.
A tense, unsettling movie about how we treat each other, The Gift does on a micro scale what Jesus does on the macro.
A present from God in an unexpected package, Jesus reveals the full extent of everyone’s tainted past. What he reveals is, when it comes to our relationship with God, we are all variations on the imperfect husband in The Gift.
Bridge of Spies
Based on a Cold War true story, Tom Hanks plays and American lawyer who defends a Russian spy. This mature, gripping spy drama is more about moral choices than explosions. Seeing a man stand up for his enemy is one of the most powerful elements of Bridge of Spies.
Another true story is the original Christmas baby came to make a stand for his enemies. Anyone against God is Jesus’ enemy and, shockingly, that’s every single person. Our selfish hearts turn from God and this makes us his enemies (Romans 5:10, Colossians 1:21). Gulp. Despite that, Jesus was born to offer God’s enemies the real hope of intimate connection with the heavenly father (Romans 8:14-30). Incredible.
Spending a few hours with an astronaut (Matt Damon) stuck on Mars was not as boring as it sounds. Blending science fact and fiction into an entertaining expedition, The Martian is an inventive yarn about the hope of survival. Despite the money and effort required to rescue the stranded astronaut, a team dares to go after him.
The rescue effort is laudable but The Martian can only hold our hope as a possibility. In provocative contrast, Jesus came to seek “the lost” (Luke 15), rescue them from far worse than physical death and offer a guaranteed hope of eternal survival. Repeat: guaranteed. Will happen. Won’t fail.
Pixar’s latest animated adventure caused quite the stir this year. Children and adults hugged the highly imaginative portrait of how emotions play a huge part in everything we do. With intellect off in the background, Inside Out’s journey of emotional development centred on Joy accepting Sadness.
Jesus doesn’t just call for an intellectual response to his offer of eternal life. He calls for wholehearted love and devotion. The kind that demands all of us, from the inside out. When we respond like that to God’s Christmas present, it’s not about joy accepting sadness as in Inside Out.
Instead, our deserved sadness at disappointing God gives way to joyful acceptance of forgiveness and salvation in Jesus.
That’s a gift we all should want for Christmas – and forever.