Chances are, sometime this month 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 TV anytime since 1989 you know him as the befuddled dad from the beloved film National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. This movie is a pop culture Christmas classic mostly because it’s utterly absurd. But let’s be honest, it also gets quite a few laughs because parts of it are true. Our holiday gatherings of extended family sometimes turn into train wrecks. Perhaps we have more in common with Clark himself than we’d like to admit. So as we flip through the seemingly endless reruns of the film this Christmas, Clark might just have a scholarly word to share after all:
Nobody’s walking out on this fun, old-fashioned family Christmas!
We love to cackle as Clark’s best-laid, patriarchal intentions for a spectacular Christmas come unraveled—even though we see it coming for miles. He’s go-big-or-go-home, from his 40-foot timber Christmas tree to his bank-breaking gift of an in-ground swimming pool. In the admirable attempt to deliver a rock star Christmas for the Griswold family, Clark misses the point so tragically it’s hilarious. When the unforgettable Christmas Eve fail compilation finally ends (aptly described as “the threshold of hell”), only then is any semblance of Christmas salvaged at all.
So what have we, church leaders, to do with the antics of Clark W. Griswold? We, too, need Christmas to showcase our mortal tendency to miss the point. Our Western affection for productivity easily lends us to make mission the mission. All year long we aim high. We push the edges. We want more results. In the final count of year-end giving it’s how we’ll grade ourselves. In the quiet of New Year’s reflections it’s how we’ll measure ourselves. In the bustle of 2022 vision meetings it’s how we’ll project ourselves. But it can so easily miss the point. And we’ll need more than the break of Christmas to recalibrate our hearts. We’ll need the Christ of Christmas.
Indeed it is possible to divorce our pursuit of him 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 church leader making an idol (or at least a law) out of the mission, Jesus 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
Fully God, fully man, 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, Kenneth Scott Latourette pointed out that “at its 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!
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).
And here, too, is the most heart-provoking fact for those of us missing the point—seeking to build the kingdom again without attending to the king. It is this Christ who chose death instead of his logo or legacy. And he thus gives us confidence to draw near to him once more, though a chasm of ministry demands lay between. We are freed from being the most flashy by the one who was the least. 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. John Wesley put it to prayer this way:
I am no longer my own but yours.
Put me to what you will,
rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing,
put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you,
or laid aside for you,
exalted for you,
or brought low for you;
let me be full,
let me be empty,
let me have all things,
let me have nothing:
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours. So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.
Now that’s what a good old-fashioned Christmas is all about.
This article was originally featured at The Upstream Collective.