Culture Clash

Every year I make it a point to watch "A Christmas Story" at least once during the holiday season. This isn't hard to do, given the twenty-four hour marathon that's on one of the cable networks. Lately it's been my companion as I play the role of Santa's helper into the wee hours of Christmas Eve.

One of the recurring themes of the movie is disillusionment. As our hero Ralphie grows up in the Midwest during the 1950's, he learns that not everything turns out as expected. Again and again, Ralphie anticipates something with giddy excitement only to be disappointed by the anticlimactic nature of it all.

For instance, Ralphie keeps a constant vigil over his mailbox, waiting for the "Little Orphan Annie Decoder Ring" that he sent off for in the mail. When it finally arrives, he dashes up to the bathroom (the only place in his house where he can be alone) and feverishly decodes a secret meant for his ears only. Imagine the anticipation as he unscrambles a message that will give him special knowledge. Now imagine his disappointment as he reads the message he's waited so long to hear: "Be sure to drink your Ovaltine."

But perhaps the most soul-crushing moment of clarity comes when Ralphie finally gets to visit Santa at the local department store. He's hoping to bypass his parents and take his Christmas plea for a Red Ryder BB Gun straight to the man himself. So he endures a long wait in line and finally gains an audience with the fat man in red only to freeze up. Then, when he finally manages to muster the courage to make his petition to Santa, Santa crushes his dreams with the same reply that his mother did: "You'll shoot your eye out."

This morning we're going to read about how Jesus disappoints everyone. Everyone has expectations of this Messiah—his followers, his enemies—everyone. And Jesus refuses to fit into their narrow definitions of who the Messiah is. Jesus causes trouble everywhere he goes.

That's a good reminder for us, because we often prefer a Jesus that caters to our needs—bless us every day and then take us to heaven when we die. But that's not how it works. Jesus wants to do all of that, but he also has his own agenda. I'm reminded once again of C.S. Lewis' description of Jesus: "He's not safe, but he's Good."