Hallmark, Idealization and the Gospel

hallmarkThe night after Thanksgiving I sat down to watch my first Hallmark Christmas movie of the season. My husband, who was close by in the living room and curious as to what I was watching, was struck by the “perfectness” of the main male and female characters. “Everyone is perfect in this movie! Perfect teeth; perfect hair; perfect skin; perfect body.” For the rest of the movie he teased me for watching such an unrealistic, cheesy movie. Finally he couldn’t hold back the question that was bothering him: Why would you watch such an idealized movie when reality is so different?

I thought about it for a moment. To be sure the characters were nauseatingly good-looking and the plot was super predictable. But my answer to him was simple: escape. What the Hallmark movie did for me was to provide an escape from a world filled with gun violence and radical, tyrannical Islam on one extreme and bad breath, tantrums and a messy toy room on the lesser extreme. It provided a “perfect” world where none of these things existed and I could pretend, too, even if just for a moment that I existed in this “perfect” world. The Hallmark movies are an idealization.

Hallmark has learned how to capitalize on women’s desire for the ideal, specifically for the ideal love and relationship. In fact if you watch enough of these movies, you realize the actors, setting and character names change from move to movie but the plot basically remains the same. Yet it still makes us feel good and warm and fuzzy.

I believe this desire for the ideal is something that God has placed in each of us in order to point to Himself. Living in a sinful, broken world even professing non-Christians idealize their own imagined heaven. Surely this messed up world cannot be all we get! We see this concretized in Hollywood as it has even capitalized on “heaven” movies like What Dreams May Come, City of Angels, and, my favorite, Dogs Go to Heaven.

But these feeble attempts miss the mark and idealize the lesser instead of the greater. The world idealizes what they believe is the ultimate of all relationships and love – romantic love between a man and a woman. This is Hollywood’s and Hallmark’s ideal. But their ideal fails, for as soon as the escape is over we walk into a kitchen with dirty dishes, or go to sleep next to someone who no longer loves us, or walk out to a beat-up old car that puts out more exhaust than it does breathable air, or go home to an empty house that reminds us we are truly alone. The escape they provide lasts momentarily; it doesn’t change our reality. Their idealization is of something that they cannot ever promise we will receive.

And sometimes we reject others’ attempts at idealization and create our own. Christmas-time seems to be the perfect stimulant for idealizations, and we parents are the most susceptible. We want to give our children the same, if not better, idealized Christmases that we remember. Christmas becomes a 6-week long, “magical” event where we become so consumed with creating the ideal Christmas that by the time Christmas is over we and our children experience the biggest let down of the year. Our idealized world has ended.

Small doses of idealization aren’t bad, I believe, as long as we recognize that they aren’t the end in themselves but point beyond themselves to the True Ideal which actually becomes our Reality and is the Ultimate Reality.

In the Incarnation, the Ideal has broken into the Real. Put another way, heaven came to earth. God became flesh and dwelt among us. And this Ideal is God’s ideal as defined by Scripture not our ideal defined by our standards. If it were our ideal, we would have placed Jesus in a castle not in a manger (not to even speak of the crucifixion!). Yet in Christ, we are not only shown an ideal love, the apogee of all loves, a I-lay-down-my-life-for-you kind of love, but it is a love that doesn’t remain on a TV or movie screen. It’s a love that goes with us and transforms us. It is a love that doesn’t make you sick after too much of it, but a love that continues to give you life upon life so that you can never have enough.

Sometimes when we use the word ideal it is a word that describes something that will never become real. This is not true of Jesus, the Incarnation or God’s love for us. The “ideal” is so real, it is even more real than what we call our reality. What we find in Jesus Christ is the ultimate reality.

It strikes me that when Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray, the first thing he tells his disciples to ask of God is for heaven to break into our reality. It is a prayer that asks for this world to mirror and become perfect world of heaven. “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9-13). Heaven is the sphere where God reigns as King and where his will is completely done. Since God is perfect and sinless, good and love, heaven is the place that reflects this majesty and character of God. Jesus tells us to pray for that perfect world to break into our world so that earth will become like heaven.

Until that day comes in full, Jesus promises those who he redeems and who follow him that we enter into the Kingdom of God (also known as the Kingdom of Heaven) partially while on this earth. In Jesus Christ, we have one foot on earth and one foot in heaven. Or, put another way, we have one foot in reality and one foot in the perfect world that is yet to be.

For some of you the following will make your toes curl, but I am guilty of reading the last page or sometimes the last chapter first when I begin a new book. I did this for Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. I can’t help it. I want to know how the story ends before I begin so that when I get to the difficult, scary, they-aren’t-going-to-make-it parts of the book, I can press forward because I know how it will end.

God, who loves us and wants to be known by us as Father, does the same thing for us. He gives us the book of Revelation so that we will know how the story “ends.” We can brave the middle parts; we can preserve during hard reality moments. We can have faith and hope because we know that his ideal will one day become real to us, and that God “will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

After watching two Hallmark Christmas movies this season, I have already had my fill. I can’t take another. But watching them reminded me of my need and desire and longing for that ideal, perfect world. A world that actually began away in a manger where God pitched his tent among us, a world that I taste every time I worship with my church family, pray and read Scripture, and a world that I know is coming, which will be God’s answer to our prayer: let your Kingdom come.

 

Day 20 of Advent: O Come All Ye Faithful

One of my favorite Christmas carols is the song, O Come All Ye Faithful. And the resounding phrase at the end of each stanza is “O come let us adore him Christ the Lord.” Let me ask you, how are you adoring Christ this Christmas season? Where does your adoration lie and in whom? How are you adoring Christ as Lord in your thoughts, marriage, friendships, finances, worship, etc? The story of Christmas is one of remembrance. God remembered us and did not abandon us; in His coming Christ would bring reconciliation between sinful human beings and a holy and perfect God. So come, let us adore him Christ the Lord, this Advent season and all year long!

O come all ye faithful joyful and triumphant
Oh come ye O come ye to Bethlehem;
come and behold him born the King of angels;
O come let us adore him Christ the Lord.

God of God light of light
Lo he not the virgin’s womb;
Very God begotten not created:
O come let us adore him Christ The Lord.

Sing choirs of angels sing in exultation
Sing all ye citizens of heaven above;
Glory to God in the highest:
O come, let us adore him, Christ The Lord

See how the shepards summoned to his cradel,
leaving their flocks, draw nigh with lowly fear
we too will thither hend our joyful footsteps;
O come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord.

Yea, Lord, we greet thee, born this happy morning;
Jesus, to thee be glory given;
word of the Father, now in flesh appearing:
O come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord.

A General Thanksgiving prayer from The Book of Common Prayer:

Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we your unworthy servants give you humble thanks for all your goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all whom you have made. We bless you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for your immeasurable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. And, we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies, that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up our selves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory throughout all ages. Amen.

Day 8 of Advent: God stooped

“Hallelujah!

Give praise, you servants of the LORD;

Praise the Name of the LORD. (1)

Let the Name of the LORD be blessed,

From this time forth for evermore. (2)

From the rising of the sun to its going down

Let the Name of the LORD be praised. (3)

The LORD is high above all nations,

And his glory above the heavens. (4)

Who is like the LORD our God, who sits enthroned on high,

But stoops to behold the heavens and the earth? (5)

He takes up the weak out of the dust

And lifts up the poor from the ashes. (6)

He sets them with the princes,

With the princes of his people. (7)

He makes the woman of a childless house

To be a joyful mother of children.” (8) (Psalm 113)

What may be an unfamiliar psalm during the Advent season sums up so well the reason we celebrate and worship God during this time — God visited us. Or, as this psalm puts it, He stooped to behold us.

The first two verses of this Psalm give us its purpose. The psalmist cannot contain his joy over God’s grace, mercy and love for His people. So he begins his song with praise to God and exhorts us to praise God along with him all day long and forevermore. But why should we praise God, you might ask? The psalmist answers this for us.

Just like I wrote in my first Advent post about how I was overwhelmed by the stark contrast between God’s status and our status and yet how He came to us, the same is true of the psalmist. God is greater than all nations and His glory transcends higher than the heavens. He is seated on the highest post possible, higher than our imaginations can take us. He is so high that he looks down on both the heavens and the earth; neither can contain Him. He is that big! Then there is God’s people. The imagery the psalmist uses is of one that describes the people being in extreme poverty and misery. They are as low as you can go. And, they are without dignity, as “the barren woman” suggests. Perhaps the psalmist had in mind Sarah, an old and barren woman, married to Abraham. Perhaps the psalmist had in mind his people when they were slaves in Egypt. There are many accounts in the Old Testament of which this psalm could be true.

The point, however, is that this God who is so great “stoops to behold” His people in order to raise the poor, lift the needy, give dignity, and make the barren women “the joyous mother of children.” One scholar wrote, “This short hymn of praise celebrates the way in which the great and majestic God who rules over all takes notice of the lowly. … God’s majesty never implies his remoteness from those who look to him; it implies instead his exhaustive attention to detail, and his inexhaustible ability to care for his faithful.”*

As God intends, Scripture doesn’t just point backwards or speak of present things, but it all points to His Son, Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament, God’s stooping only came so far. He sent angels; He spoke through a burning bush; He worked through mighty acts of His people. But there came a day when God himself came to earth. As Philippians 2 tells us, Christ humbled himself. He left the majestic presence of the Trinity to become human. He didn’t give up his deity, but became incarnate, both God and man, so that His name could be “Immanuel,” which means “God with us.”

As was true of Sarah, God made Mary pregnant. It was not because of her age that her pregnancy was a miracle. It was because she was a virgin. She had not had sexual relations with a man. There was also another woman made pregnant, more like Sarah because of her age, and her name was Elizabeth. Her child would prepare the way for the Christ child. In fact these two miracle pregnancies were indicators that God was up to something, was in the business of stooping to behold us.

Advent reminds us that God has not left us alone in our misery, in our poverty, or in our states of improbability. No; because of his great love for us He will raise us up to sit in the throne room of heaven with Him! “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

The greatest irony of all is that in His stooping to notice the lowly, He himself became lowly. A baby. Born in a place where animals are kept. Born to a poor family. But He became lowly so that in raising Himself up from the dead He might also raise us up to walk in the newness of life with Him!

So with the psalmist I, too, say, “Hallelujah! Give praise, you servants of the LORD! Praise the Name of the LORD! Let the Name of the LORD be blessed, from this time forth and forevermore! From the rising of the sun to its going down let the Name of the LORD be praised!” Amen.

*See ESV Study Bible notes on Psalm 113.

And the Winners Are… Day 3 of Advent: Giving to Others GIVEAWAY!

And the winners are of these two giveaways are…

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Congratulations Emily Woodby on winning the Luyando T-shirt and iblog4books on winning the ornament set! (My husband and son were the ones to choose your names out of a mug…old school style!) Please e-mail me at kristenrpadilla@gmail.com to give me your mailing address, and Emily, I need the size T-shirt you would like. 

Thank you to everyone who participated! I loved reading your comments. I hope that this giveaway made you aware of two really great ministries and that you will consider supporting them in the future.

Follow along and watch for more giveaways in the future….

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Earlier today I posted about the example Jesus Christ sets for us believers in sacrificially giving to others. If you missed it, scroll down or read it here.

In the spirit of giving and because of the generosity of two ministry organizations I mentioned in my earlier post — Luyando and WorldCrafts — I will be giving away TWO awesome gifts to TWO of you!

The first is from Luyando, a Freedom Tee-Spruce Long Sleeve, which retails for $30. If you were to buy this t-shirt you would feed 60 precious Zambian kids one meal! So if you don’t win it, I encourage you to buy one. The winner will be able to determine the size.

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The second giveaway item is from WorldCrafts. It is the Golden Stars Ornament Set made by Peaceful Creations in Bangladesh, which retails for $22.99. Please refer back to my earlier post about the mission of WorldCrafts. These are terra-cotta star ornaments that are handpainted gold by widows in Bangladesh. It includes a set of 6 ornaments in 3 different patterns packaged in an unique box made from local newspapers. By supporting Peaceful Creations you are helping women provide much-needed income for their children. Read more about Peaceful Creations and find more of their products here.

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How to enter:

You can enter TWICE, once for each giveaway.

1. To enter to win the Luyando t-shirt, go to http://www.luyando.org and find what the word “luyando” means. Comment with what it means and one way the organization seeks to do that word among the kids they serve (found under “our work” section). You can comment ONCE on either this post or the previous post.

2. To enter to win the WorldCrafts’ ornaments, go to http://www.worldcrafts.org and find the list of artisans. Comment with a name of ONE artisan group and the name of ONE of its (the artisan group you named) products you would like to receive or give this Christmas. Comment ONCE on either this post or the previous post.

{To comment: Look to the left of the blog post title (if you are on the home page) or underneath the blog post title (if you are on that post’s page) and click on the number of comments link. Then scroll down to the bottom of the comments and add your comments.}

That’s it! Two (one for each giveaway) lucky, random winners will be selected in 48 hours, this coming Thursday, at 5 p.m. These will make AWESOME gifts for you or to give someone else this Christmas season so get to commenting. Also, don’t forget to read today’s earlier post on more ways you can give this holiday season.

Happy Advent!

Kristen

Day 3 of Advent: Giving to others

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Today is #givingTuesday, a day begun to encourage giving back to others during the holiday season.

So although #givingTuesday is a secular movement, should we as Christians join in? My opinion is yes! And not only today but as many days as possible.

There has been a recent trend (one that I like!) these past several years among Christians to place more emphasis on giving to others over materialism. One example of this is evident in popular blogs. Many Christian bloggers have spoken out against Santa and have advocated doing an Advent calendar. (While I love the Advent calendar, I am not one of those, though, who believe you must do away with Santa.) They have also suggested limiting gifts to four for the children (one they want, one they need, one to wear, one to read). You also see this trend in businesses, for example TOMS, that promise with every purchase something equivalent is given to those in need elsewhere. These are just a few examples.

The story of Christmas prompts us to give to others like Christ gave to us. We don’t often read Philippians 2:1-11 during the Christmas season, but we should. Starting with verse 3, Paul writes, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interest, but also to the interest of others.” Paul then gives the example of Christ, who though he had everything gave it all up, “made himself nothing,” to come as a baby and later to the cross so that we might be reconciled to God. Jesus’ example of sacrificing everything in order to give himself for us demands that we as his followers “count others more significant” than ourselves.

So how can we participate in #givingTuesday and giving throughout Christmas?

1. Make a donation to your favorite charity, ministry, or missions agency in honor or in memory of someone. My grandmother passed away this past February, so this will be our first Christmas without her. So this Christmas I will make a donation in her memory. Or maybe you have a relative who is difficult to buy for or who really doesn’t need anything. A donation to an organization would be the perfect gift. Ideas are: The International Mission Board, the North American Mission Board, Compassion International, the Woman’s Missionary Union, Make A Wish Foundation, St. Jude’s Hospital, your local Baptist association, your state Baptist state board of missions, the Ronald McDonald House, and E3 Ministries. This is only the beginning of a long list, but it’s a good place to start.

2. Make a purchase that gives back to someone. If you really need to give a gift to someone, consider purchasing one that helps someone else in need. Here are some of my favorites. 1. The first is Luyando. Luyando was begun by a young woman who was in my discipleship group at church and whose family I lived with during my last year at Beeson Divinity School. Luyando helps children living in poverty in Zambia through a kids club, feeding program, and (coming soon) an orphanage. And of course Christ is glorified and the gospel is made known. Luyando has for sell t-shirts, and the proceeds go back to helping fund Luyando! So you can give a really cool t-shirt and help kids in Zambia. (Picture at top is taken from the Luyando website.) 2. WorldCrafts. WorldCrafts “develops sustainable, fair-trade businesses among impoverished people around the world.” The products that WorldCrafts sell are made by artisans from around the world, most of whom have come out of the sex trade and prostitution. By purchasing their products, you are not only giving them a job and income but dignity and hope. You are also helping them stay in a place where they will hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. So not only do you get a really cool gift but you are giving back to others. 3. Freeset. Freeset is one of the artisan groups whom WorldCrafts sells. But you can also purchase directly from Freeset. Freeset employs women who were once trapped in Kolkata, India’s sex trade. By purchasing their items, you are helping free women from sex trafficking in India.

3. Buy gifts for others in need. One of my favorite things this time of the year is Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes. While the deadline has already passed for this year, you can participate next year! These boxes are filled with presents that are sent to children all around the world. Another option is taking a child from the angel trees that you find in malls, department stores, and independent stores like Walmart. Something I am doing this year is buying for a family in need at my church. Sometimes all it takes is opening our eyes and ears to needy families within our own communities. At the Hispanic church my husband and I serve is a very needy family with three boys. We will be giving to them this year. A last option is to contact your local homeless shelters, Christian rehab facilities or orphanages that might have families with young children. Find out if those children need gifts. In Birmingham we have the Jimmie Hale Mission Center, Pathways Home, The Lovelady Center, just to name a few.

I hope in the spirit of Jesus Christ in his great gift to us that we will find ways to give to others and to consider them and their needs more significant than our own this Christmas.

Day 1 of Advent: He became small

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It took me from 10:30 a.m. yesterday morning until 8:30 last night to set-up, put lights on and decorate my 9-foot Christmas tree. During the midst of the endeavor my father-in-law asked me how many lights were on the tree. I stopped to give a good estimate and said, “3,000.” He then asked if I knew how many hairs I had on my head. I laughed. “No, do you?” “Yes,” he responded. “24,000.” He laughed. Of course he didn’t know. But God does.

Yes. I immediately thought of Matthew 10:30 and Luke 12:7. “Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

“Do you really think God knows how many hairs are on every person’s head in the world?” my FIL asked. “Do you know how many people are in the world?” 7 billion people (I just checked!)  “Yes,” I said. “Only God could be big enough to know that. Only a person who is bigger than the Universe, who created it all, who is so big that even the heavens cannot contain him, could know something like that.”

Then my eyes glanced over to my WorldCrafts nativity to a little baby wood figurine of Jesus.  When I ponder the greatness and bigness of God in light of the story of Christmas, I am left in awe and wonder. The God of the Universe, the One who cannot be contained, became small through the Son, contained Himself in a woman’s womb, became a baby, so that we might be reconciled to God. Take a moment to read John 1:1-18 and note the paradoxes.

Jesus was timeless but became time-bound. Jesus had no beginning yet was born. Jesus was God and was human. Jesus made all things yet was birthed through that which He created. God is unseen and yet God is seen through Jesus.

It’s too wonderful; too lofty for me! The good news that our great God, Creator, Magnificent, Holy One sent the Second Person of the Trinity to become as small as a baby, so that we might see God, touch God, look upon God, and be reconciled with God puts me on my knees in a position of humility, love and gratitude to our great God and King!

This is the story of Christmas. God becoming man; God with us. Immanuel.

Happy Advent season! If you haven’t experienced the great love of God through Jesus, I pray you will find it this Advent season. God bless.