Last Sunday, we concluded a four-part series called “Disordered Love.” The name comes from a quote by Saint Augustine, who said:
The essence of sin is disordered love.
He meant that all evil and injustice in the world, can be tied back to problems in people’s priorities. When we love leisure more than work, career more than family, or anything more than God – our loves become disordered. The Bible has another name for disordered love – idolatry.
But we’ve been asked the question: why did we preach a series on idolatry in the weeks before Christmas?
For the answer to that, we need only to look at almost every Christmas movie, because they’re all about disordered love.
Let’s start with a classic like A Christmas Carol. Whether you prefer Brian Hurst’s 1951 classic, or Jim Carrey’s 2009 version – the story is the same.
Ebenezer Scrooge is a character defined by his disordered love of money. He cares for nothing more than profit, and abuses the people around him. He refuses a Christmas invitation from his nephew, e refuses to donate anything to the city’s poor, and he only grudgingly allows his clerk Bob Cratchit Christmas Day off.
Scrooge is consumed by greed and selfishness, born out of his disordered love of money.
On Christmas Eve, he’s visited by the ghost of his old business partner Jacob Marley. Marley now walks the earth chained to his money boxes. He chained his heart to money in life, and now remains chained to it in death.
Through the visitation of three spirits, Scrooge comes to understand that his loves are disordered, and he’s living his life in a way that creates evil and suffering. On Christmas morning, he awakes transformed.
He dumps money into the collection box for the poor, orders a prize goose be delivered to Bob Cratchit, and joins his nephew for Christmas dinner. Scrooge had loved money and used people, now he loves people and uses money.
A Christmas Carol is about disordered love.
How about the 1946 classic It’s a Wonderful Life? This film is about George Bailey. George doesn’t worship money like Scrooge did (that’s Mr. Potter’s role). George had a plan for his life from boyhood, to travel the world and fill his life with experiences. Those experiences were his dream and purpose in life.
But his responsibilities to the family business keep interfering. So George’s little brother becomes a war hero. George stays home. George’s friend Sam Wainwright moves to New York and makes a killing in plastics. George stays home.
Though George marries his sweetheart and has 4 children, he’s left with the feeling that he never accomplished anything in his life. His definition of accomplishment centered on traveling the world – and he was so focused on that goal that he sees himself as a failure who accomplished nothing. He despairs to the point of suicide.
But George is visited by an angel who is able to show him what the world would be like if he had never been born. He sees the impact that his life would have on his friends and loved ones, by seeing what Bedford Falls (now Pottersville), would be without him.
When he returns, his “loves” are no longer disordered. Far from longing to travel, he doesn’t care if he never leaves a prison cell! He’s overjoyed to see his family and the people of Bedford Falls one more time. He realizes that serving his community has been more valuable that a trip around the world ever could be.
It’s a Wonderful Life is about disordered love.
Finally, let’s look at the 2003 hit Elf. Elf may star Will Farrell, but the story is actually about Buddy’s father, Walther Hobbs, played by James Caan.
We get introduced to the conflict in this story when Santa is telling Buddy about his father.
“There’s one more thing you should know buddy,” says Santa, “he’s on the naughty list.”
Why is Walther on the naughty list? Because of his disordered love. Walther is a children’s book publisher who doesn’t like children. He cares only for his position of esteem and authority.
Early in the film we see him ship defective books to save money, and choose not to dine with his wife and young son Michael. It is Michael who best summarizes his father’s disordered love:
“Buddy cares about everybody. You only care about yourself.”
The turning point for Walther comes in the meeting with his boss. He’s given the very clear choice, his career or his family. He chooses family. His loves become ordered, and he even ends up a commercial success by publishing Buddy’s story.
All of these movies are about disordered love, because the re-ordering of loves is the essence of the Christmas spirit. Christmas spirit is about hope, forgiveness, and generosity – peace on earth and good will towards men. Christmas is an annual reminder of the values that we should cultivate year-round, and a return to what matters most.