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  • Adam Schell

Not A Hallmark Movie

Eighteen years ago today, on November 27, 2004, the way we celebrate Christmas was changed forever. Now, I know that statement might seem a little overdramatic because it feels like we’ve been celebrating Christmas the same way for as long as any of us can remember. Just stop and think about it for a minute. We’ve been hanging Christmas stockings on Christmas Eve since 1823. We’ve been baking Christmas cookies since the 1600s. We’ve been decorating Christmas trees since the 1500s. And we’ve been exchanging Christmas gifts since 336AD.

So what could’ve possibly happened eighteen years ago that would change the way we celebrate Christmas forever? Well, on November 27, 2004, a fledgling cable network released a movie starring a couple of semi-recognizable actors from the 90s called A Boyfriend for Christmas – where a skeptical social worker falls in love just in time for Christmas after she gets a little help from Santa Claus, and the Hallmark Christmas movie was officially born.

Now, I heard some of you laughing because the idea that Hallmark Christmas movies changed the way we celebrate Christmas forever might seem a little absurd. I mean we all like to joke about how predictable these movies are, and there are plenty of memes that go around this time of year about these movies, like this one:

What has 15 actors, 4 settings, 2 writers, and one plot? Every single Hallmark Christmas movie.

But even though we all realize that these movies are a little bit cheesy and completely predictable, millions of people tune in to watch them every Christmas. Like last year, when Hallmark released a movie called My Family Christmas Tree. In this movie, a woman takes an ancestry DNA test and discovers that she has a family she never knew about. So, at Christmas, she travels to meet them and, of course, she falls in love with a friend of her new family. Or, in other words, My Family Christmas Tree is a typical Hallmark movie.

But more than 3 million people tuned in to watch this movie when it premiered. To put that number in perspective for you, more people watched My Family Christmas Tree than watched a typical episode of the reboot of The Wonder Years, an episode of Young Rock, or an episode of The Simpsons last year.

So millions of people couldn’t imagine celebrating Christmas without watching at least a few of these Hallmark Christmas movies each year. Now, I’ll be honest, I can’t exactly count myself in the number of people who watch Hallmark Christmas movies each year. But I also don’t have cable and I don’t subscribe to a streaming service that has Hallmark movies either…but if I did, I’d probably end up watching a few of these movies at Christmas.

Because I love Christmas movies. And if you’ve spent much time around Melbourne Heights at Christmas over the years, you’ve probably realized it. I mean, I’ve preached sermons that were inspired by A Charlie Brown Christmas, A Christmas Story, It’s a Wonderful Life, and I even did one in rhyme that was inspired by How the Grinch Stole Christmas. So I love Christmas movies. And even though they’re a little cheesy,

I also get the appeal of Hallmark Christmas movies. Because even though none of us are going to switch places with our doppelgänger, save our family Christmas tree farm, marry a prince or princess, fall for a person who turns out to be a billionaire, or find true love in the span of an hour and a half, Hallmark Christmas movies give us a glimpse of what we wish Christmas could be like. In these movies, families always end up together, arguments don’t last beyond a commercial break, and no one ends up being a humbug.

So millions of people tune in to watch these movies every year because we all wish our Christmas could be as perfect as a Hallmark Christmas.

We all wish our Christmas could be as perfect as a Hallmark Christmas.

I know that’s how I’m feeling this Christmas. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not standing here wishing that I would meet the love of my life this Christmas season…that happened back in 2005 when I first met my wife. And you can all “aww” at that line if you want, but to me, it sounds like something you’d hear someone say in a Hallmark movie. No, what I’m saying is that there is a part of me that wants this Christmas at Melbourne Heights to be perfect.

And why do I want this Christmas at Melbourne Heights to be perfect? Well, I want this Christmas to be perfect for us because it’s been a long time since we’ve been able to celebrate Christmas the way we want to as a church. We couldn’t celebrate Christmas the way we wanted to last year because we were a portable church. That meant that we couldn’t plan all the activities we wanted to plan without having to rent out a venue for every one of them. We couldn’t even decorate a real tree that we could leave up throughout the Christmas season.

Or the year before that, in 2020, we were still living in the height of a pandemic. A lot of us canceled all of our Christmas plans with family and friends. And, as a church, we weren’t even meeting in person…so our entire Christmas was spent online. So in 2020, we didn’t get to celebrate Christmas the way we wanted to either.

In 2019, we were able to plan all of the Christmas events that we look forward to as a church each year. But, even while we were making those plans and enjoying our church’s holiday festivities, in the back of our minds we knew that 2019 was going to be our last Christmas in the building our church had called home for 60 years. So we still didn’t get to celebrate Christmas the way we wanted to.

The truth is that I don’t think we’ve been able to celebrate Christmas the way we really want as a church since 2016. That was the last Christmas we had before we made the decision to sell our old building. So that was the last year we were able to celebrate Christmas without wondering what the future might hold.

So, now that we’re celebrating our first Christmas in our new church home, we can once again celebrate the way that we want to. And I want all of our Christmas events and activities, all of our services and celebrations to be perfect.

But as much as I may want this Christmas to be perfect for our church, and as much as you may want your Christmas to be as perfect as a Hallmark Christmas movie…it’s not going to happen. And it’s not going to happen because there’s no such thing as a perfect Christmas.

So rather than stressing ourselves out and driving our friends and family crazy by trying to make this Christmas something it will never be, let’s try something different. Instead of trying to have the best Christmas ever let’s make the best of this Christmas.

Instead of trying to have the best Christmas ever let’s make the best of this Christmas.

And to help us do that, to help us make the best of this Christmas, I want to spend the next few weeks talking about some of the reasons why we want to have a perfect Christmas. And I want to talk about how you can set those reasons aside so that you can enjoy the Christmas you’re actually going to have.

And I want to start right now by talking about one of the reasons why so many of us wish that we could have a perfect Christmas. And here it is: We want to have a perfect Christmas because we think everyone else is having a perfect Christmas.

We want to have a perfect Christmas because we think everyone else is having a perfect Christmas.

And where do we get this idea that everyone else is having a perfect Christmas? Well, I could tell you that we get this idea from Hallmark movies…I mean, that would fit right in with everything else we’ve been talking about so far in this sermon, and these movies do always have a happy ending. But even though most diehard Hallmark fan knows that these movies are fictional.

So where do we really get the idea that everyone else is having a perfect Christmas from? Most of the time, these ideas come from social media. Ever since Facebook launched to the general public back in 2006, people have been carefully curating their lives to make sure that we only see the best parts of their lives. Just think about it for a minute, when was the last time you saw someone share a picture of the Christmas cookies that they burnt on Facebook or Instagram? That just doesn’t happen. Instead, we’ll see carefully curated pictures where every single cookie is perfectly situated and there isn’t a sprinkle out of place.

Or when someone is sharing pictures of their kids opening up presents on Christmas morning, they’re not going to share the picture of their little girl crying because someone bought her the wrong Barbie doll. No, they’re going to show the picture they took an hour later after the tears dried up and they made their kid put on a happy face.

And even if we don’t go to those kinds of extremes, we all try to put our best foot forward whenever we post something on social media. We’ll try to make sure our eyes are open and it doesn’t look like we have a double chin before we share a selfie. We won’t share a picture when we’re buying a fresh stick of deodorant at Kroger, but we’ll share a thousand pics from our last trip to Disney World. Or we’ll just skip posting altogether because our lives just feel so mundane.

And because people only post the best moments of their lives on social media, we end up feeling like everyone’s life is perfect…except ours. And research shows that these social comparisons have consequences on both our behavior and on our mental health – like we know that the more time someone spends scrolling through social media the more likely they are to struggle with their own self-esteem.

So, if part of the reason why we want to have a perfect Christmas is that we think everyone else is having a perfect Christmas, then what can we do about it? Instead of trying to have the perfect Christmas, what can we do to make the best of this Christmas?

Well, first, we need to realize that what I said a little earlier in this sermon is absolutely true: there is no such thing as a perfect Christmas.

There is no such thing as a perfect Christmas.

And if you doubt that, just remember what the first Christmas was like for Mary. When we meet Mary she’s just a teenager. And she finds out that she’s pregnant even though she isn’t married.

And that’s a big deal in Biblical times. Because Mary became pregnant before she was married, Mary could’ve been stoned to death. And I’m pretty sure you’re never going to see any looming threats of capital punishment in a Hallmark movie…living in fear for your life isn’t anybody’s definition of the perfect Christmas.

But that’s where Mary finds herself. She’s pregnant but she’s not married. And because of the threat to her life as well as her immediate family, Mary has to leave town. In Luke 1:56, we read that Mary went to live with her cousin for about three months of her pregnancy. And that didn’t happen because Mary really liked her cousin Elisabeth…it happened because Mary was afraid for her life.

And the whole time that Mary is staying with her cousin, she’s also afraid that the man she is supposed to marry, her fiance Joseph, isn’t going to want to have anything to do with her. And even when Joseph decides to stick with Mary, their first Christmas together was far from perfect. An oppressive government forced them to leave their homes to go and pay taxes. When they got to their final destination, there wasn’t any place for them to stay. So Mary and Joseph end up staying in a stable…and that’s where Jesus was born.

Now, if the folks over at Hallmark tried to turn that story into a Christmas movie no one would watch it. Because Mary’s story was about as far from perfect as you could get. But even though Mary’s story isn’t perfect, it is real. Her Christmas was messy. Her Christmas was chaotic. Her Christmas never would’ve made it on social media.

But in spite of all of that, I want you to hear how Mary responds. If you’ve got a Bible close by, go ahead and grab it and turn to Luke 1. We’re going to start reading in verse 46. So here’s what Mary says. She says:

46…“With all my heart I glorify the Lord! 47 In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior. 48 He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant. Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored 49 because the mighty one has done great things for me. Holy is his name.

50 He shows mercy to everyone, from one generation to the next, who honors him as God. 51 He has shown strength with his arm. He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations. 52 He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. 53 He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed. 54 He has come to the aid of his servant Israel, remembering his mercy, 55 just as he promised to our ancestors, to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.”

Luke 1:46-55 (Common English Bible)

Instead of focusing on everything that wasn’t perfect in her life, Mary focused on what was going right. Even though she was just a teenager and she was about to have a baby, even though her fiance was considering leaving her and people wanted her dead, even though she’d be forced to leave her home before her baby was born and she’d end up giving birth in a stable; Mary couldn’t look past the good news of Christmas.

Mary knew that her baby was the son of God, the long-awaited Messiah. She knew that her son would do everything that she mentioned in her prayer. So no matter how messed up Mary’s life was she couldn’t help but be thankful.

If you want to make the best of this Christmas you have to realize the same thing. No matter how messed up your life may seem, you have so much to be thankful for.

When you burn those Christmas cookies, you still have a family to cook for. When your kids melt down because someone bought them the wrong toy, you still have people who love them enough to give them gifts. When your tree topples over, when your sister and her family can’t make it into town, when Santa can’t figure out how to get a bike built before Christmas morning; you still have so much to be thankful for.

So, if you want to make the best of this Christmas focus on your blessings instead of focusing on what could be better.

Focus on your blessings instead of what could be better.

Enjoy time with your family. Take in all the holiday decorations. Tune into a Christmas station on the radio. Watch all the cheesy Christmas movies you want. Focus on what you have instead of what you wish could be.

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