“To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair.” Isaiah 61:3 (NLT)
A movie seemingly made for Christmas 2020 appeared almost 30 years ago—a creepy little stop-motion musical, The Nightmare Before Christmas. Was it a Christmas movie, a Halloween movie, or both? This year, I feel like I’m trying to prepare for Christmas in a rather ghastly Halloween world.
The movie’s hero, Jack Skellington, asks some great questions. At Chinatown Peace Church (Vancouver, B.C.) we’ve taken up four of them this Advent season.
- “Is this all there is?” Jack yearns for another world, a world of light and joy beyond his own grim Halloween world. In Isaiah’s words: “Oh, if only you would burst through the heavens, God, and come down!” (Isaiah 64:1)
- “What’s this? What’s this?” is Jack’s enraptured carol after he’s magically snatched into the glory of Christmas town. His song echoes Isaiah 40 (immortalized by Handel’s Messiah): “The glory of the Lord—revealed!”
- “What does it all mean?” Jack decides to exchange his Halloween terrors for Christmas joy. His conversion reflects the great exchange of Isaiah 61:3, “Beauty for ashes, oil of joy for mourning.” But, still, Jack seriously messes up, and almost destroys Christmas.
- “What have I done?” is Jack’s final, despairing question. Mary responds, “How the proud have been brought low” (Luke 1:52). Jack needs a Saviour. At the end of the movie, this Saviour is revealed as none other than Kris Kringle (“Krist Kindl,” German for “Christ Child,” that is, Jesus Christ).
Pairing a ghoulish Tim Burton movie with our great classic Advent texts from Isaiah and Luke might seem slightly sacrilegious. Still, our post-Enlightenment secular age remains deeply “haunted” and in need of re-enchantment, as the philosopher Charles Taylor suggests.
Could the weirdness of this Christmas 2020 be God’s strange gift awakening us to Emmanuel?
Tim Kuepfer is a pastor at Chinatown Peace Church. This reflection originally appeared in the Dec. 16, 2020 edition of Mennonite Church British Columbia’s e-newsletter.