Hallmark Movies and the church
There are many traditions around Christmas time. Caroling, presents, families, and so much more are just a few of them. But if your house is like mine then a new holiday tradition has emerged: watching as many Hallmark Channel Christmas movies as a sane person can handle. Each Christmas since 2011 the Hallmark Channel runs a string of holiday films in a row, and they have become an important tradition for many people. Oftentimes the same people appear in multiple movies, and they always follow a predictable script. A big city person comes to the small town and learns the true meaning of the holiday. It also works when a small town person goes to the big city to teach others about Christmas. Another common theme is an overworked man/woman who is too busy for love and they find it at Christmas time. Each year it seems like hundreds of new movies are made, but they all follow the same dozen plot lines.
It’s exceedingly easy to mock these movies, and I am more or less banned from commenting on them while my wife and three daughters watch. But there is something we can learn from these movies about what people are looking for during the holiday season. As pastors and church leaders who are interested in sharing the greatest story ever told each Christmas, there is something to learn from these cliched movies and stories. More to the point, there are several truths that the popularity of Hallmark movies makes clear.
People want an escape. Any film buff would sneer at these movies, but the people who watch them don’t seem to care. The formulaic plots and predictability of the films are rewarding to those who watch. They know just what to expect and they get it every time. People are more than ready to suspend disbelief, overlook the poor production values, and excuse the fact this person was someone different in the movie just before. The stress and hardships of the holiday season means that people just want to sit down and have an escape that doesn’t require them to make choices or think about anything.
People like when things wrap up nice and neat. At the end of each movie the good guy gets the girl, the family comes together, and things all end up just like we want. People want to avoid the hardships of life where things never end up like they do in the movies. Real life is messy and difficult, and it’s nice to sometimes see things that end up like we think they should.
People find comfort in predictable stories. There are no surprises in these movies, each time two people meet unexpectedly, and despite their differences they eventually fall in love. Then they break up for about five minutes before coming back together and living happily ever after. Even when you know what is about to happen, it’s satisfying to see it all play out just like you predicted.
I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that real life is nothing at all like Hallmark Movies. Real life is full of surprises, and not many of them are good. You never see any cancer, tragedy, or suffering in Hallmark movies, but we can’t escape them in real life. Even the holiday season doesn’t allow us to escape the difficulties in our lives. For many in our churches, the holiday’s only seem to amplify the hardships that they face.
It’s tempting as church leaders to try to provide people with just what they want. The world that we live in is full of difficulty and tragedy, and people want to escape from that. In fact that might be just what people think they are getting at Christmas time when they hear the old familiar story and songs. But the Christmas story is far from neat, orderly, and predictable. A virgin gives birth, angels appear to shepherds, the young family flees to Egypt, and Herod tries to protect himself at the cost of innocent lives. We have heard the story so much that we forget how incredible it is. The story of Christ’s birth is about as far from a Hallmark movie as you can get. We need to embrace the radical nature of God come to earth, and quit trying to make it part of the nice and predictable season.
At Christmastime we need to remind people that our hope is not that someday things will work out nice and neat. Our hope is in the baby in manger, in God who has come to earth to save mankind from their sins. What the world needs most is a Savior, not a season. Even if we fully embrace the Christmas season it only lasts for a month or so, and then it’s back to regular life. But the story of Christmas reminds us that because of Christ we have hope for those moments when life is hard, chaotic, and it seems like there is no way out.
Everyone needs an escape now and then, there is nothing wrong with that. But when the movie is over and we have to turn back to our messy lives, don’t forget that God is working among us. God sent His only begotten Son right into the middle of our messy and tragic world, and Christ is working to make all things new. Someday He will return and reign over the new heaven and the new earth. One day everything will be wrapped up nice and neat, not under the Christmas tree but at the throne of God, when every tribe and tongue gather to worship. And that will be better than anything we could ever think of. This Christmas don’t get too wrapped up in the way things could be if life was like a movie. Instead let’s find peace in the present because of the promise of the future, and the presence of Immanuel, God with us.