Chances are, sometime over the next week you’ll take in a few of the enduring words of Clark W. Griswold. Though the name may sound like a lesser known scholar, if you’ve owned a television anytime since 1989 you know him as the befuddled dad from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. This movie is a pop culture Christmas classic partly because it’s so absurd. But let’s be honest, it also gets quite a few laughs because some of its element are true. Sometimes our own holiday gatherings turn into train wrecks. Clark might just have a scholarly word to share after all.
Nobody’s walking out on this fun, old-fashioned family Christmas!
It’s easy to cackle as Clark’s best-laid, patriarchal intentions for a spectacular Christmas come unraveled—even though we see it coming miles away. He’s haplessly go-big-or-go-home, from his 20-foot Christmas tree to his bank-breaking gift of a new swimming pool. When the unforgettable fail compilation finally ends on Christmas Eve (aptly described in-scene as “the threshold of hell”), only then is any semblance of Christmas salvaged at all.
So what have we, Christians, to do with the antics of Clark W. Griswold? We, too, need Christmas to showcase our mortal tendency to miss the point. All year long we aim high. We push the edges. We want more results. In the quiet of New Year’s reflections it’s how we’ll measure ourselves. In the bustle of 2017 vision meetings it’s how we’ll project ourselves. But it can so easily miss the point.
At Upstream I get to think and write lots about God’s mission. It’s our thing. But Mike Breen says that even this good thing by itself will ultimately fail us. Our Western affection for productivity easily lends us to make mission the mission. We need more than the break of Christmas to recalibrate our hearts. We need the Christ of Christmas.
Though we often divorce our pursuit of God from our pursuit of his mission, fortunately in him there is no such division. Christmas and the mission of God go hand in hand. A fresh meditation on the Incarnation refocuses us on the undivided God-man, Jesus Christ. Some have seen him as a “phantom” with no real human flesh, or a “tertium quid” (what?!) with a mish-mash of God and man (Macleod, 157-159). Thankfully, for the worn-down mission leader making an idol (or at least a law) out of mission, he is the one of whom Paul wrote:
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons, Galatians 4:4-5
As fully God and fully man, he was fully competent to abide by everything in the law (Galatians 3:10), and thus fully sufficient to redeem those who are stuck under it (4:5). In his historical description of the mysterious “fullness of time” in which Christ appeared, Kennth Scott Latourette pointed out that “at it outset, Christianity seemed to be one of the least of many rivals and with no promise of success against the others” (23). And then along came a purported illegitimate child born in a cattle stall. Sounds more like mission failure. Latourette continues,
Although he performed many miracles, he always did so to meet an obvious human need, meticulously avoided any display of his power to call attention to himself or to prove his divine commission, and at times endeavored to keep secret his astounding works of healing. He chose for his intimates men from humble walks of life and had few friends among the influential. His public career was brief, at most probably no more than three years and possibly compressed within a year. He wrote no book…He came to an ignominious death which seemed to be not so much tragic as futile…Yet that life is the most influential ever lived on the planet and its effect continues to mount. Here is the most thought-provoking fact of human history (33-34).
It’s a fact that’s heart-provoking for we who miss the point, heartily building the kingdom without the king. It is this Christ who chose death instead of a logo or legacy. And thus he gives us confidence to draw near to him when we fail to do the same. We are freed from being the most flashy by the one who was the least flashy. Our hearts can be warmed and filled again, and our mission reignited with his power and presence to be big, small, or whatever he wants. Now that’s what a good old-fashioned Christmas is all about.
This is a republication from The Upstream Collective. Used with permission.