Does anyone else look forward to curling up by the Christmas tree and balancing a cup of cocoa while turning on the TV for yet another Hallmark Christmas movie?
I have to confess that while I’ve been known to enjoy a Hallmark movie or two, I’m actually a bit of a Scrooge when it comes these flicks. I don’t usually watch them to feel warm fuzzies when the main characters (inevitably) fall in love or to ooh and ahh over the perfect snowy countryside setting.
I’m a bit more cynical than that. In fact, if you head over to Twitter and peruse my #HannahWatchesHallmark hashtag (schnazzy, right?), you’ll find a healthy array of my snarky commentary in tweet-form. For example:
Ladies, if he:
-dresses like an @LLBean model
-saves you from tripping on an icy sidewalk
-bumps into you at the local coffee shop
-ALMOST kisses you at least twice
He’s not your man, he’s the leading guy in the latest Hallmark movie.#HannahWatchesHallmark
— Hannah Underhill (@hgunderhill) November 30, 2018
I mean . . . really. I’m not wrong, am I?
After all, aren’t Hallmark movies incredibly predictable? The plotline likely involves a single and cynical twenty-something gal who INEVITABLY meets a handsome hometown hunk who wins his way into her heart, and within forty-seven minutes (give or take) they’re kissing under the mistletoe at their small-town Christmas tree lighting ceremony.
As a cynic and a bit of a (self-proclaimed) amateur comedian, I take to Twitter to poke light-hearted fun at the cookie-cutter story lines and predictable plot elements of Hallmark movies. But if I press pause on my comical commentary and a dig a little deeper, I can’t help but think that we love Hallmark movies for that very reason: They’re predictable. Safe. Reliable.
They fit our expectations for the perfect, lights-all-aglow Christmas—which, in today’s crazy-mixed-up world, can sometimes seem as rare as a red-nosed reindeer.
See, you and I grasp at the familiar. We lean into what will enfold us in security and shelter, a bubble-wrap cocoon protected from the jagged edges of the broken things that cause us pain.
Holiday traditions, like the ones we watch in a perfect Hallmark movie, can be just one of the ways we try to maintain the balancing act of living in a fallen world gasping for breath, while awaiting the redemption God has promised to His children (Rom. 8:18–23).
Satisfying a Need
Christmas trees and sparkling lights and quiet snowfall evenings beside a fireplace are not wrong or bad. They’re sweet blessings from a Father who remembers that we need rest from the wear-and-tear of everyday life (Ps. 103:14). So if you’re like me and love all the festive hallmarks (see what I did there?) of this magical season, then this paragraph is your permission to keep on celebrating! (And save me a cup of cocoa, will ya?)
But the danger creeps in when, like a series of Hallmark movies stuck on the same generic plot, we hold too tightly to our expectations of the perfect Christmas holiday, looking to them to satisfy our need for security and stability.
I encountered this disillusionment for several years during college as year after year I experienced painful events that threatened to destroy the Christmas ideals I clung to.
One Christmas, I had a severe allergic reaction to a medication and spent the holidays lethargic and sick, barely drumming up an appetite for the goodies on our Christmas dinner table.
Another Christmas, my grandfather was suddenly rushed to hospital; a few days later, he was no longer with us.
In the holidays in between, I battled panic attacks and anxiety that clenched my heart in a vice grip as I clawed for a return to normal, to predictable.
I found myself fearing each year that my holiday expectations would be disrupted yet again by some hard turn-of-life events, and all I wanted to do was grab a giant roll of duct tape and anchor myself to something sure and steadfast.
Somehow, I ended up thinking that “sure and steadfast” was my Christmas tree or our family’s tradition of opening gifts on Christmas morning or making Christmas cookies the week before. But these things weren’t my anchor.
They were never intended to be.
They were intended to point to a better Anchor that is forever-sure and certainly steadfast (Heb. 6:19–20).
Nothing Less Than Himself
In John 16:33, Jesus tells His disciples, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows” (NLT). Life is hard. It just is. Our expectations get shattered. Our hearts get broken. Bad things happen, and if we expect that they won’t, we’re lying to ourselves and paving a path of self-inflicted pain.
But in the same breath, Jesus redirects the disciples’ focus from the aches of the decaying world to something infinitely better: Himself. “But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”
In the midst of broken expectations, Jesus promises us a truer and better expectation that is more predictable and stable than any formulaic Hallmark movie could ever be. Why? Because it comes from God Himself. And this is the miraculous promise He has made: the ultimate victory of Jesus Christ over sin, our enemy, and the curse under which this world has been aching (Rom. 16:20).
The baby we sing of in Christmas carols brought more than a flock of lonely shepherds and curious wise men to the stable under the stars. He brought into the world a flesh-and-blood anchor to the promises of God (2 Cor. 1:20), an anchor that would topple the powers of death and overcome the trials and sorrows of a fallen world.
This is Christmas. This is our expectation. This is our hope.
A Better Expectation
We have a lot of expectations we’re probably leaning into this Christmas—nights curled up on the couch next to the glow of the Christmas tree lights, sugar-cookie-baking, and Christmas-present-wrapping. By all means, let’s embrace them for the gift of Jesus that they represent.
But let’s also pause before tethering our hearts and hopes to lights that will grow dim, cookies that will be eaten (or lost in the back of the pantry), and presents that will be torn into and forgotten by next year.
Let’s tether our hearts to a surer expectation of Truth—that of Jesus Himself. Even if we are surrounded by trials and sorrows, or joys and celebrations, we can take heart. He has overcome the world.
And that is, in my mind, a plot far better than ANY Hallmark movie.