Please find below my teaching notes to the series, “BELIEVE, Pt. 1 The Joy of Christmas.” For personal use only. All other uses please contact email@example.com. (c) 2012, Terry Broadwater.
I love the movie, “ELF” that has become one of the Christmas movie classics. As you may know, the movie is about an ELF, who as a toddler in an orphanage crawled into Santa’s bag of toys and finds himself back at the North Pole, where he is raised by Papa Elf. As an adult he discovers that he is actually human and that his real father, who doesn’t know about him, lives in New York City. Buddy, the ELF, played by Will Ferrell, begins a journey of finding his father, overcoming the challenges of relationships in the “real world”, and ultimately saving Christmas by convincing people Santa is real.
The result of “believing” in Santa brings joy and cheer that keeps the spirit of Christmas alive. So much theology in this movie and story!!
To ELF Christmas is all about “spreading Christmas cheer by singing loudly for all to hear!” If were that simple! Regrettably, for many, Christmas is a season to survive. Depression, grief and loneliness are often exacerbated by shattered family circumstances and increased debt loads. Christmas calendars are overloaded, causing us to think in terms of “getting through the holidays.”
Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and now what is being called “Gray Thursday” regrettably reminds us that Christmas has been hijacked by cynics, exploited by capitalists, and trampled by consumers.
As David Crabtree wrote in a recent article, “Christmas cheer comes under a withering attack. The checkout lines go on forever; we growl and whine when only one of 10 registers is open. There is no charity in the mall parking lot; we hunt the elusive parking space like wolves. Cheap-suited Santas charge a king’s ransom for a picture of little Eddie or Tiffany crying. December is full of long, clamorous days culminating in the wearied singing of “Silent Night.” Exhausted by cantatas, parties, shopping, feasting, families and travel, we arrive at the Bethlehem manger suffering from heat prostration. Christmas Eve will find us lifting up our weary voices to sing, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come.” Then we rush from the service to get one last gift, or visit one last party. So soon it is over. We save the bows, burn the wrappings, strip the tree, and labor over our New Year’s resolutions. Too often we have missed the point. We’re like the man who goes to the coast but never sees the ocean (guess he’s talking about me!). The threat of a holiday hijacking is all too real. Unless we engage our hearts in a true celebration of Christmas joy, we are easily caught up in a pointless and mindless holiday.”
And that my friends, is exactly what the “sermon” preached in the movie “ELF” is all about- that the true spirit of Christmas must be reestablished in our hearts and homes, that all is not lost, that we can truly experience the joy of Christmas when we BELIEVE!
Luke 2:8-11 “That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!”
Notice what the angel said. “I bring you good news that will bring great JOY to all people!” The Greek word for “joy” here means, “having a cause to be joyful!”
What’s the cause? “I got an iPad Mini?” That will make you happy until the next greatest version comes out! “I spent time with the relatives?” Well, it depends- that can make you happy or sad or… The cause for JOY that the angel announced was that what the people of Israel had been hoping and believing for was now realized- the Messiah had come! Of course, many would regrettably lose their belief because they missed the point of how God would actually “save the world” but for those who would still believe they would and do experience JOY!
What is this JOY? “Joy is the inner confidence and outward characteristic that comes from knowing God!” Knowing him in the context of deep and right relationship. It’s knowing you are deeply loved by God, deeply cared for by God, deeply forgiven, blessed, empowered, known by God!
The Joy of Christmas is captured in…
THE EXCITEMENT OF “I KNOW HIM!”
ELF Clip (27:10-28:18) The Scene: Buddy shows up at Gimbels Department Store and finds out Santa is coming at 10:00 a.m. the next day. He can’t control his excitement- “I know him!”
Despite the fact that Buddy the Elf actually DOES know Santa, everyone else looks at him as if he’s crazy. They laugh it off, imagining this employee to be just another over-the-top Christmas nut. And, he plays the part well, always dressed in full elf attire, including a funny green hat and, yes, bright yellow tights. To the rest of the employees, Gimbels’ Santa is just another hired hand to help out with this season’s long line of screaming children and Christmas wishes. To them, this Santa has another real job–he is just doing this on the side for some extra cash. They know the type, a different Santa for every department store. However, Buddy the Elf isn’t talking about just another Santa. He is talking about the true Santa- the Santa that resides at the North Pole, the Santa that raised him, the Santa with the real beard, the authentic toy workshop. The Santa he had just left a few days ago. Buddy the Elf actually KNOWS Santa and he is EXCITED!
I tell people I know Britton Colquitt, punter for the Broncos, and I do to a degree. But there are some in our church that really know him because he and his wife attend one of our Life Groups. And it’s exciting. He’s a pro football player! I also know a few Redskins players that I used to hunt with back in Virginia that are all retired now. That was exciting too. Some of you know some fairly famous people and don’t we get all excited when we tell others about it?? Like, you know me…
Buddy KNOWS the real Santa and there’s this excitement that is so genuine and from the soul!
In Acts 17 it records Paul is in Athens and he encounters all these temples, altars, and idols to multitudes of gods. And he comes across this one that says, “to the unknown god” and Paul jumps on it and says in his best Elf impression, “I know him, I know him!” His excitement is unbounded as he shares about his amazing relationship with the Lord. That’s why Paul could later write things like, “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice! (Phil. 4:4) ” He’s saying “re-joy” in the Lord- no matter what the circumstances on the outside knowing Jesus on the inside is how you live joyfully despite what’s going on around you!
Knowing Jesus, being able to say, “I know him!” I know his love, his grace, his mercy, his forgiveness, his sacrifice, his heart for me, that’s exciting! That’s the stuff that real JOY is made from! I’ve seen some of the most disheartened, discouraged, despairing people transformed by the joy of knowing Jesus!
Believe in the Joy of Christmas? Absolutely, because you are excited to know Jesus! The Joy of Christmas is also realized in…
THE EXPERIENCE OF “CHRISTMAS CHEER!”
ELF Clip (28:22-29:43) The Scene: Buddy meets Jovie working at Gimbels. She is not very cheerful- she’s got work to do. Several scenes in the movie depict this: Buddy’s dad, his dad’s boss, etc. To Buddy, they are missing the real point of Christmas- “experiencing Christmas cheer!”
The Joy of Christmas is fueled in your life as you encounter people that you can cheer up! Sadly, the cheer gets sucked right out of us as we encounter just how crazy the Christmas season has become! It’s hard to be cheerful when there’s so much pressure- we run out of time, run out of money, and run out of joy!
I know it’s a movie, but wouldn’t you love to be a lot like Buddy? Not a care in the world, so cheerful, and full of joy. For Buddy, “Christmas Cheer” or the “Spirit of Christmas” is all about how you can make other people’s lives more enjoyable! His famous quote: “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is by singing loud for all to hear!”
That’s the thing about Jesus! When you read about him in the Gospels, he’s not grumpy and grouchy, he’s the life of the party. People not like Jesus liked Jesus! Why? He was a “cheer-giver” because he was full of cheer. And you can’t give what you don’t have!
People need to EXPERIENCE being cheered on and cheered up! Jesus cheered people up because he cheered them on! Think of the people around you that just need some cheering up- how can you cheer them on?
Playing Basketball in High School… I can still hear it: “Terry, Terry, he’s our man. If he can’t do it no one can!” Wow, was that motivating! I wanted to get fouled just so I could get to the foul line and hear the cheerleaders chant that!
Jesus said in John 16:33 “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you willhave tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” Do you see that? “Be of good cheer- cheer up!” Sure, life gets tough, things don’t always go your way; often you feel the odds are stacked against you, but Jesus has overcome for you- he took on all of hell and won, so don’t think he can’t make a way for you to win!
And there’s something about cheering on and cheering up others that cheers you up and on! Isn’t that true? So find some people to cheer up- you won’t have to look far, and watch how it cheers you up! That’s a lot of what Christmas is about!!
Believe in the Joy of Christmas? Yes, because you can experience real Christmas Cheer! Finally, the Joy of Christmas is found in…
THE EXPECTATION OF “BELIEVE!”
ELF Clip (1:20:08-1:21:25) The Scene: Santa’s sleigh has broken down in Central Park. Buddy is trying to fix it. Buddy’s brother shows up and upon seeing Santa and the gift he’d asked for makes Santa’s sleigh move- the “believe” factor!
Santa says something to Buddy’s little brother that sounds like he took it right out of the Bible: “It’s not about the seeing, but the believing…” People just need to believe!
John 20:29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Sounds like the same thing doesn’t it?
What’s the point? Once you’ve seen, sure, you believe, but you also lose the expectation, the wonderment that you imagination creates! Seeing Jesus was certainly not disappointing for those who encountered him. But believing before you see, and to keep believing before you see, is fueled by expectation!
I remember being in college and not being able to see Jo Ann but having the expectation that she as coming to visit! Oh my goodness! I couldn’t wait. It was all I could think about. It was the expectation of getting to see her that fueled the fire- you know what I mean??
I think sometimes that children and some adults are more fired up by the expectation of what’s going to be under the tree than the actual moment of unwrapping and seeing the gift! Let’s be honest, sometimes it’s not what you were expecting or were hoping for, is it?
Believing in Jesus and all that you hope, desire, need, and want him to be is an awesome thing Jesus says! That expectation and what you believe is fuel to your life. And when you encounter him, does he disappoint? Never!
The Joy of Christmas is fueled by belief and expectation! The expectation of receiving all that you could ever hope for!
So, today, during this Christmas season, are you excited because you know Jesus? Are you experiencing cheerfulness because you’re cheering others on? Are you fueled by the expectation how awesome and amazing you believe Jesus to be?