The polarizing question posed over and over again around this time of year is, “Which Christmas movie is best?”
We watch our favorite holiday movies all winter long. We cling to the rich memories that such movies provide. Baking cookies and wrapping gifts with Grandma as you watch Christmas with the Kranks, watching your son or daughter take their first steps as they watch Kris Kringle put one foot in front of the other in Santa Claus is Coming to Town. Rolling over in side-splitting laughter with your family as young Kevin McCallister once again thwarts Harry and Marv.
There are a plethora of Christmas movies to choose from when picking your favorite. From Rudolph to Scott Calvin to Kevin McCallister to Jim Carey, on any given evening in December, someone can sit down with a glass of eggnog and a Christmas cookie and travel to the Island of Misfit Toys or Mount Crumpit and be filled with joy that only Christmas can bring. We are even at a point now where our streaming services sort the holiday movies and episodes, so they are readily at our fingertips.
One movie (or movie series), however, seems to always sneak into the rotation on cable television’s “25 Days of Christmas.” There is no Santa Claus, no baby Jesus, no wisemen, and no big shining star. This movie also happens to be one of my favorites: Disney Pixar’s Toy Story. For as long as I can remember, the television channel, Freeform, has featured the saga that puts Star Wars and the Lord of the Rings to shame (there, I said it!).
Why Toy Story? Perhaps it’s because Andy gets his toys on Christmas. Maybe it’s because we have transformed the focal point of Christmas to be toys, gifts, and merchandise. Certainly, the thread of friendship and family is woven throughout the movie. There are a couple Christmas scenes, to be sure, but there is not what I would call a Christmas plot line. I would argue, though, that there is a deeper theological element, which lies deep within all of the Toy Story films. And so, I boldly say the following:
Toy Story is indeed a Christmas story.
Think about it. When Andy gets a new toy, what is the first thing that he does? He writes his name on the foot of each of his toys. This is to ensure that no matter what, all other toys know that Woody and Buzz belong to Andy. Nothing can change that. Not even in the second film when the evil chicken man tries to paint over it. Woody rubs the polish off the bottom of his foot, revealing four letters that identify who Woody truly belongs to: A-N-D-Y.
This is what our God does to us in baptism. With the same hand that he writes the law on the tablets for Moses, he writes the gospel on you and in you. When you are bathed in the waters of baptism, God is marking you as his own child and adopting you into his family. Saint Paul speaks to this truth when he writes, “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” (Gal. 4:4-5). In baptism, he graciously gives you his Holy Spirit. He washes you clean, forgives your sins, and makes you a new creation as he now dwells within you! Paul reiterates this again in his letter to Titus:
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life (Titus 3:4-7).
In your baptism, God says, “You don’t belong to the world anymore; you belong to me. You are my child, and nothing can change that.” Just as the skies opened when Jesus himself was baptized and the Father spoke over him (Mark 1:11), God speaks to you the same words: “You are my beloved child; with you I am well pleased.”
Satan is going to try to cover up that name. He is going to exhaust his cupboard and use everything he can to ensure that you believe that you don’t belong to God. He will lie, deceive, and tempt you into thinking that you are not worthy to have God’s name written on you. Just as Jesus is driven into the wilderness after his baptism, so will you be driven into the wilderness of the world to go toe-to-toe with the father of lies. Satan will stop at nothing to distract you from the truth. But in all the struggle, trial, and temptation to believe that you have been rejected by God, the promise of Baptism is that the name of God is always there with you. His name is written on you. You always belong to God.
Christmas is God becoming one with his creation, assuming our created human flesh in order that those who believe in him would not receive a baptism of wrath, but a baptism of grace and forgiveness,
God wants you to know and believe in that promise so much that he uses elements of his creation so that you can touch, taste, and see salvation. There is nothing special about water, but when he joins it with his Word, God uses it to give you grace, mercy, forgiveness, and salvation through the Holy Spirit. He does the very same with the Lord’s Supper. While there is nothing special about simple bread and wine, he joins them with his word to give you eternal life in his true body and true blood.
In the Sacraments and the many other miracles of Christ, we see that the very nature of God is to be incarnational. And isn’t that what Christmas is all about?
Christmas is God becoming one with his creation, assuming our created human flesh in order that those who believe in him would not receive a baptism of wrath, but a baptism of grace and forgiveness, as water and blood pour out of his side on the cross; the new elements of salvation for you.
Jesus in the manger is the promise that God is with us (Matt. 1:23). Jesus in the manger is the tangible means that God uses to redeem you. Jesus in the manger is God writing his holy name on his creation that he will one day soon come and make brand new. Until then, we wait and desperately cling to the promises of God made to us by sending his Son.
This Christmas season, remember Jesus and his unwavering love for you, his friends. Not only has he become one of you, but he has claimed you as his own. And there is no greater love than to lay down your life for your friends (John 15:13-14). A wonderful gift of eternal life, forgiveness, and restoration given to his friends.
It sure does give a different feel to Randy Newman’s “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” doesn’t it?
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