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A First Century Scandal – Not Your Typical Hallmark Movie

This month I’ve seen enough Hallmark Christmas movies to last a lifetime. Three. I’m amazed at how popular Hallmark movies have become, so I did a little research to find out why.

According to forbes.com, “Hallmark’s Countdown to Christmas slate of holiday movies delivered more households and female viewers than ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox on Saturday nights in the 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. time slot during its nine-week run. The movies attracted an average audience of 3.5 million viewers and 641,000 women aged 25 to 54, the target demographic.” The article goes on to say, “Hallmark can afford to take the jokes about its movies in stride. According to the company, Hallmark earned $600 million in advertising revenue last year.”

Not bad. Although, it will be interesting to see what effect this week’s controversial news will have on the bottom line.

So, why are these predictable, mawkish, and saccharine movies so popular? (And there are plenty of other choice adjectives I could use.) Bill Abbott, the C.E.O. of Crown Media, Hallmark’s entertainment company, believes their success is in the familiar, nostalgic scripts where you “get away from politics . . . from everything in your life that is problematic and negative, and [you] feel like there are people out there who are good human beings that could make you feel happy to be part of the human race” (newyorker.com).

Sounds like the Blue Pill from The Matrix. Take the pill, and you will wake up in your own bed with no worries and a normal life.

When I read the Christmas story from Luke’s and Matthew’s Gospels, I see two teenagers who took the Red Pill. Joseph and Mary chose faithful obedience to God, knowing it would cost them everything—reputation, friendships, and family support.

Undoubtedly, their story was a first-century scandal. Nine-months of awkward explanations. Furtive glances from those you once called friends. According to Roman Law, the male head of household was the only one required for a Roman census. So, why did Joseph drag his pregnant wife seventy miles to Bethlehem? Could it be to spare her the ignominy of giving birth in her hometown?

Philip Yancey concludes, “It seems that God arranged the most humiliating circumstances possible for his entrance, as if to avoid any charge of favoritism. I am impressed that when the Son of God became a human being he played by the rules, harsh rules: small towns do not treat kindly to young boys who grow up with questionable paternity” (The Jesus I Never Knew, 32).

Truth be told, the story of the Incarnation would more likely be aired on HBO than Hallmark. But, whichever channel you prefer, let us all rejoice that a young, unmarried couple took on such profound risk which has given us all such prodigious reward.

“Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38, ESV).

Posted by Rick Grover, Lead Pastor with

A Remedy for Self-Love

A recent turn of family events has exposed something in me that, quite honestly, I’d rather not confess.  But perhaps in my confession, we can all find a deeper grace and a stronger walk. 

My mother-in-law was visiting us Thanksgiving weekend, and she developed a nasty virus that required hospitalization.  For a week.  After getting released, the very next day she had to be readmitted, and we’re not sure how long she’ll have to stay as she fights off her infection.  Two weeks before Christmas.  With several speaking events.  A funeral.  Christmas parties all lined up.  And family Christmas plans.

I’m trying to be the supportive son-in-law and be at the hospital, while Laura and her siblings do their best to rotate and provide their love and care.  But here’s my confession.  In the midst of other people’s pain, I actually begin to look inward at my schedule, my priorities, my demands, and my expectations above those around me. 

I’m reminded of C. S. Lewis’s “shrinking man” in The Great Divorce who hides behind the mask of the tragic actor and continues to shrink by his own self-love.  This image of the shrinking man comes from Augustine’s classic description of sin as self-love.  Augustine taught that God created us to be “curved outwards” with our gaze on God and neighbor in selfless love.

Sin, however, pulls our gaze away from God and others and turns it upon ourselves so that we become “curved inwards.”  The result, as Joshua Ryan Butler tells us, is a shrunken existence: “compressed, restricted, and small, in our self-shielded resistance to the source of love and the objects of love for whom we were created.  Self-love shrinks you” (The Skeletons in God’s Closet, 95).

Ever since the Fall (Genesis 3), humanity has curved inward and “put on leaves” (Genesis 3:7-8) in our attempt to create false identities and hide from God and others. 

What’s the remedy?  Exactly what my mother-in-law needs right now—an antivirus that will kill the infection and bring healing.  Jesus is the antivirus, and as we turn our gaze upward, we will see Him there all along, waiting to pour out His love and grace.  Through His redemption, we are given a new identity (2 Corinthians 5:17), and we shift from self-love to selfless love and from the shrinking man or woman to a radiant child of the King.

Sometimes when bad things happen around you, it reveals some badness still inside of you.  It has for me this week.  But overcoming it requires admitting it and then “curving outwards” once again with our gaze on God and neighbor in selfless love.

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:3-5, ESV).

Posted by Rick Grover, Lead Pastor with

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