Okay, so the third in our ‘Movie Advent’ series is a controversial choice. I recently saw a poster that said, “There are two types of people. Those who think Die Hard is a Christmas movie, and those who are wrong.”
I admit, there is very little in the way of Santa, elves, the jingling of bells, and no decking of halls with boughs of holly in Die Hard. But it takes place on Christmas Eve, there’s snowflakes falling on the ground and, quintessential bad guy, Alan Rickman (as Hans Gruber) quotes this Christmas-clinching line, “Now I have a machine gun. Ho ho ho.”
That pretty much makes it a Christmas classic in my view.
Let’s do a quick plot summary. NYPD detective John McClane flies to Los Angeles on Christmas Eve to reconcile with his estranged wife, Holly. The plan is to meet Holly up on top floor of a skyscraper where her company’s Christmas party is taking place. Unfortunately, evil German mastermind Hans Gruber and crew take the building, hold the party guests hostage and steal $640 million from the company in a spray of gunfire and dynamite. What they didn’t factor in was screwball 80’s tough guy, Bruce Willis as John McClane, who singlehandedly takes out the entire terrorist cell, frees the hostages and wins back the girl – all in the space of 132 egg-nog laden, Christmassy minutes.
Now, I haven’t exactly spent countless hours inspecting why I enjoy Die Hard so much, but as I’ve thought about writing this blog these thoughts occurred to me. Everyone loves a hero. Everybody needs a hero. Everybody wants the hero to beat the bad guy and get the girl. And there you have the Christmas story! Let me explain:
Christmas is of course supposed to be the celebration of Jesus’ birth. We’ve found strange ways of depicting this in our culture. Children dress as shepherds, angels, donkeys, and three mysterious looking wise men, all peering over the shoulder of a halo-laden virgin, caressing a smiling, well coiffured, blonde baby. We’ve found creative ways of sanitising the nativity, and making the birth, life and ultimately the death of Jesus politically correct and ‘U’ rated.
But the Jesus we read about in the gospel accounts of his life was anything but this. Rennaissance artists have something to answer for when it comes to our minds-eye vision of Jesus. The bible doesn’t depict him as a babe on a throne, three fingers raised, blessing Mary. Nor is there any mention of a wispy blonde, followed around Jerusalem by lambs and scholarly looking disciples.
The bible tells us that Jesus was unremarkable to look at. He was an everyday Jewish man. A tough tradesman, who was brave enough to go down to the central market and overturn every cash register in stall holders faces, to face the political and religious hierarchy eyeball to eyeball and tell them that everything in their hearts was rotten. This Jesus faced Pilate, the highest ‘King’ in the land, and told him that he was only King because his father had allowed it.
At the end of his life, with a bravery that hasn’t been replicated in human history, he walked up a dusty hill and allowed Roman soldiers to pin him to a wooden cross by smashing iron nails into his hands and feet, hoisting him high where he would die a slow and agonising death. Knowing he was dying, he asked God to forgive those who put him there. Think about that for a minute. He was brutally executed for no legal reason, and asked his father to allow this injustice to pass unpunished. The best and most protective big brother that ever lived would have stumbled in this task of protection. But not Jesus. Step aside John McClane.
Jesus is the Prince of Peace. He is gentle, and merciful and accommodating of all people, in spite of what we’ve done in our lives. In fact he loves us - completely - in spite of what we’ve done in our lives. He loved those brutal Roman executioners. To be able to face the kind of inhumane punishment that Jesus did and yet, have a heart full of love for his oppressors is as heroic as it could be. Step aside John McClane.
And here’s the clincher. He didn’t die on the cross because he was incorrectly sentenced by a wonky legal system. He died on the cross because the only thing that could make things relationally right between us and God was for a lamb to be sacrificed. Except this time, the lamb would do a once-and-for-all- job since Jesus, the son of God, would offer himself as the sacrificial lamb. Step aside John McClane.
And as he died, in what looked like a victory for evil, he did something remarkable. He demonstrated complete mastery over life and death by rising up again, disarming the hold that death has over humans. The finality of death had been reduced to an impotent thing, completely under the control of Jesus. Step aside John McClane.
And with that power he said that whoever believes in him would never die – not eternally anyway. While our flesh would grow old and perish, our spirits never would and that those who love him with that full heroic love that he demonstrated to us, would live with him eternally, in peace, with no more death, disease or sadness.
And of course, he gets the girl at the end of the story. In the bible, the imagery of Jesus defending, rescuing, building and ultimately giving us eternal life with him is like a bridegroom defending and protecting his bride. Jesus is the groom, and all who say yes to him are counted in as part of the people of God – the bride – that he rescues from terror, and maintains in purity. Just like any good husband would.
At Gateway we celebrate and encourage lives of adventure, purity and compassion. We see all of that epitomised in this life of Jesus, and we want to both imitate it, and give thanks for it. Over the next week or so, we’ll be singing carols together in order to do just that. It’ll be a celebration of fun, laughter, mince pies and candles. But deep down inside, we’ll be singing – even roaring – the truths of the Lamb of God who became the Lion of the tribe of his people.
Join us. For more info on our meetings over the festive period head over to our events page.