Every year, my parents host my mom’s side of the family for Thanksgiving. Without fail, for the last thirty years—save one when the kitchen was under renovation—anywhere from 30–45 members of our extended family show up around five for a full night of fellowship, food, and foosball. The next day, it’s Black Friday shopping for the women, flag football for the men (and me—I’m not a big shopper), and nacho night, complete with queso and my aunt’s oh-so-delicious burritos.
We’re a family of tradition.
And part of our tradition is watching the first Christmas movie of the season Thanksgiving night.
As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve found myself enjoying Christmas movies as soon as the weather turns cold. We’re just two weeks past Halloween, and Christmas movies are already playing around the clock on the Hallmark Channel.
I won’t lie: I’m a sucker for Hallmark movies. And while I might be slightly embarrassed to admit my affection for these made-for-TV movies, I’m not alone: as the commercials say, Hallmark’s movies are loved by 85 million people.
But if there is one thing that disappoints—but does not surprise—it is that these movies get the true meaning of Christmas wrong . . . all. the. time. And it’s not just Hallmark’s movies that get it wrong. Hollywood blockbusters and classics have been selling “true love,” “coming home,” “being true to yourself” and “generosity toward all” as the true meaning of Christmas for decades.
But before I scoff at the audacity of these movie directors to miscommunicate the true meaning of Christmas, I stop and think: What would I say if those directors were to ask me, “Well, what is the real meaning of Christmas?”
The proper Sunday School answer is, of course, “Jesus!” But how do you explain the true meaning of Christmas in more than one word? How do you weave “Jesus!” into the story line of a romantic comedy or a heartfelt drama? How do you take a one-word answer and give it context, meaning, and inspiration to those same 85 million people who are being told that Christmas is about everything but Jesus?
Well, let’s give it a go:
If the true meaning of Christmas is “true love,” then the script could be adapted from 1 Corinthians 13, which reminds us who true love is and how we can love because of Him. A trick I like to use is to replace “love” with “Jesus,” because Jesus is love (see 1 John 4:8):
“Love [Jesus] is patient and kind; love [Jesus] does not envy or boast; it [Jesus] is not arrogant or rude. It [Jesus] does not insist on its [His] own way; it [Jesus] is not irritable or resentful; it [Jesus] does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love [Jesus] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love [Jesus] never ends” (vv. 4–8).
If the true meaning of Christmas is “coming home,” then the script could be adapted from 1 Thessalonians chapter 4, which reminds us that we have a heavenly Father who calls us home through His Son:
“For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (vv. 14–17).
If the true meaning of Christmas is “being true to yourself,” then the script could be adapted from 1 John chapter 1 to remind us how important it is we understand our true self and recognize our need for Jesus, our Savior:
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (vv. 8–9).
If the true meaning of Christmas is “generosity toward all,” then the script could be adapted from 2 Corinthians 9, which reminds us where generosity originates—not from ourselves but from an overflowing of thanksgiving to God for all He has done for us:
“Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. . . . For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God” (vv. 7–8, 12).
I guess it comes down to this: If Hollywood and Hallmark were to incorporate the true meaning of Christmas into their movies, the characters would have to—at some point—acknowledge the birth of Christ and His life, death, and resurrection. Because when you explore the foundation of every watered-down cinematic “meaning of Christmas,” you find Jesus, the true meaning of Christmas.
So, as we wait for the time when Hollywood’s Christmas blockbusters and Hallmark’s made-for-TV Christmas movies share the true meaning of Christmas . . . I ask you to consider how you would answer the question: What is the true meaning of Christmas?
And perhaps if we all share the true meaning of Christmas with just one person, we might be able to reach more than 85 million people with the love of Jesus Christ this year.