“But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” Luke 10:33-37
In the Coffee household, we have been on our usual Christmas steady fare of Christmas movies. Christmas, it seems, is such an enormous cultural event, Hollywood just cannot make enough “Christmas miracle” movies. It’s a standard template: there is a hero (or a heroine) who is flawed and relatable in some fashion and who does not believe in the magic of Christmas. Enter conflict (or an antagonist or dire circumstances or a hilarious parade of unforeseeable events) and there is an ensuing struggle. Finally, there is a Christmas miracle and our hero is saved and now believes in the magic of Christmas.
This year, my attention has been grabbed by how the church is portrayed in these Hollywood versions of Christmas (if it is portrayed at all). It seems to me that, more often than not, the church is portrayed as a bit silly and irrelevant and disconnected from anything, well… normal. I don’t know, but I strongly suspect these portrayals betray the writers’ own stories about their church experiences growing up. I watch these almost farcical portrayals of church and find myself asking, “Is that really what you think of church?”
I know you know this feeling. Being made fun of and ostracized as “weird” or “abnormal” is painful. Wouldn’t Christianity be much easier if everyone in our country, our state, our community a Christian? If only Christianity were the norm…if a Christ-centered Christmas were the norm…then we would be so much happier.
There is one very large problem with that attitude. Jesus, the founder of this revolution we call Christianity, was not normal.
It was Jesus who taught us to love our enemies. It was Jesus who hung out with sinners and tax collectors and referred to the esteemed religious leaders of the time as a “den of vipers” and “children of the devil”. And it was Jesus who told ground-breaking stories like the parable of the good Samaritan. There is nothing normal about making a much-despised Samaritan the hero of your story and making a priest and a Levite the goats of the story, and then getting a Pharisee to admit to those very things. And it was this same Jesus who said on numerous occasions that we who follow him would be hated by this world, just as he was hated.
Jesus, it seems, wanted to be seen as abnormal. He thrived on being strange and culturally odd. Maybe we need to adjust our perspective on it as well. Jesus, I suspect, would note Hollywood’s portrayal of the church and of Christmas today and say, “Yep. That’s about what we expected.”
There was nothing normal about Jesus. There is nothing normal about his followers. And there is nothing normal about Christmas. It is all freakishly abnormal. And I’m OK with that.