But the LORD says, “Do not cling to events of the past or dwell on what happened long ago. Watch for the new thing I am going to do. It is happening already—you can see it now! I will make a road through the wilderness and give you streams of water there. (Isaiah 43:18-19)
Christmas with the Kranks is a 2004 American Christmas comedy film based on the 2001 novel Skipping Christmas, by John Grisham. Christmas with the Kranks stars Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis as a couple who decide to skip Christmas one year since their daughter has joined the Peace Corp and will not be home for Christmas. Their plan is instead to take all the money they would normally spend on Christmas and enjoy a Caribbean cruise. Easier said than done. By the time Christmas Eve rolls around, the Kranks have managed to tick off all their neighbors, friends, and the local merchants who counted on their usual business orders for cards, trees, catering needs, the scouts, and even the police. The newspaper runs a picture of their unlit house and declares that their street came in last place for the neighborhood lighting competition because of the Kranks’ refusal to participate. It all changes when their daughter Blair calls from the airport to surprise them—she is home! Everybody, of course, swings into action to make Christmas happen for Blair.
Corny. Indeed. But while the movie didn’t generate much buzz, the book Skipping Christmas was published on November 6, 2001 and reached #1 on the New York Times Best-Seller list on December 9 of that year. The whole idea of skipping Christmas resonated with a fair number of people, at least as a fantasy worth considering.
Why is that? Maybe because if ever there was a time when we’re trying to go back to a time that was, but will never be again, it is the Christmas season. The more we make Christmas about ourselves, the more we’ll miss what God might be doing in and around our lives that is new. This is a wonderful time of year, with traditions which need to be reimagined and renewed so that our eyes and hearts are always open to God’s present activity. Jaroslav Pelikan so poignantly said: “Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. And I suppose I should add, it is traditionalism that gives tradition such a bad name.”
Isaiah’s counsel for Israel is as needed today as it was in the prophet’s day. The prophet lived during turbulent and difficult times. The temptation of the people was to always look back to the time of King David as the “good old days,” and the popular wisdom was that we just need to get back there and it will all be OK.
But, if anything is true in the Bible, the Biblical testimony is that God is always the God on the move from the past, into the present, and toward the future. The Bible is oriented not toward a re-living of the past, but toward God’s present activity as God’s present and future kingdom unfolds. While rooted in the past, biblical hope always looks forward. God is doing a new thing. As C.S. Lewis said: “It would be rash to say that there is any prayer which God never grants. But the strongest candidate is the prayer we might express in the single word encore.”
My prayer every morning is to give me eyes to see—ears to hear—and an open heart to what God is doing around me this moment during this Advent season which is new and unexpected. And, I might add, so far one of the answers has been the lesson the pain in my life is teaching me. Didn’t see that one coming!