NOTE: Originally published in The Christmas Gospels (2017). Photos added.
“One child doesn't matter? Which one?”
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Producer: Steve Pegram
Director: Sarah Smith
Writers: Peter Baynaham, Sarah Smith
Runtime: 97 minutes
Scripture Reading: Luke 15:1-7
A refreshing new classic, Arthur Christmas is the story of Santa's son Arthur, who is left to work in the mail room because of what a klutz he is. The current Santa, the 20th in the line of succession, is no longer effective, leaving the work to his eldest son, Steve. Treating Christmas like a highly-organized military operation, Steve is dismissive over having missed one child, but Arthur, believing that every child deserves equal effort, sets out with his grandfather and a precocious elf to deliver the child's toy by morning.
Each of the twenty Santas brought their own distinct style to the position. Clearly, Grandsanta represents a more war-weary season of the world. His folksy gumption and flippant regard for the safety of others implies a more rough and tumble cheer-giver than Malcolm (his son, the current Santa). Malcolm is affable but doddering. He has a prim sensibility that calls Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson in the old Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films to mind. Steve, like I said, is militaristic. He's admittedly not good with children but doesn't see why that necessarily makes him a bad Santa. Of all of them, only Arthur typifies Christmas. He is the most sincere in spirit, and his urgency to make sure that not one child is overlooked separates him from the others, who are too concerned with proving themselves or their methods; when they're ready to go to bed, Arthur is ready to go.
I'm reminded of the Parable of the Lost Sheep in Luke 15:1-7. Jesus is chastised by the Pharisees for eating with sinners. He asks them if they had a hundred sheep but one went missing, wouldn't they go and search for it? In the film, both Steve and Malcolm are content to let Gwen go without a gift, focusing instead on all the kids who got their presents, much like the Pharisees were less concerned with individuals than with holding onto their status. Arthur was the good shepherd of the family, understanding that each child deserves the effort. Like the elves asked, if one child doesn't matter, which child is it? To Christ, every single one of us is precious. I would also point out that Jesus suggests in the story that all of us start out on the Nice list but that some of us have wandered. The common interpretation of the parable is that it's about Christians who go astray, but Jesus is referring to the sinners whom He was with at the time. Everyone is the Lord's (Psalm 24:1), He just doesn't get to keep all of us (Mark 16:16).
Before returning to heaven, Jesus gave His apostles the Great Commission, telling them to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything [He] commanded [them] (Matt. 28:19-20).” Many treat this instruction in a militant, Steve-like way and place enormous emphasis on what they call “soul-winning,” which is just an aggressive way of saying “introducing people to Jesus.” They count souls like beans in a jar, lifting them with pride. Oh, they'll say it's not about personal glory and add something humble like, “I'm just praising what Christ did through me,” but, if they were really humble they'd end the sentence with “what Christ did.”
We don't win anybody, we simply tell them the good news that they have already been won (Mark 16:15-16), but some Santas cling to that validation like Grandsanta, Steve, and Malcolm fighting over who puts Gwen's bike under the tree. It doesn't matter who makes the introduction, just as it didn't matter who delivered the gift – what matters is that it happens. It's important to recognize the key phrase of the verse, make disciples. Discipleship is the process of teaching, not the event of staking a claim. An emphasis on numbers can distract us, as it did Steve, and tempt us to overlook the value of each individual. Our Shepherd left the gate open. If someone joins our pen it's because they hear and respond to His voice, not to our effort. It's about Jesus, not us or our methods. Arthur was happy just to be an elf. Likewise, we can be happy being disciples without trying to be Saviors.
- Have you ever gotten caught up in disputes over how to do something that really wasn't all that important?
- Have you efforts to “win” someone ever done more harm than good?
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A Queens native, Jason grew up in Lakeland, FL and attended Rochelle School of the Arts before moving to Florida's Nature Coast, where he resides. He always dreamed of being a storyteller, and he graduated Magna Cum Laude from Saint Leo University with a BA in Psychology and a Minor in Religion. He has been a professional guest speaker for thirteen years, talking at churches, graduations, and as a guest lecturer at Pasco-Hernando State College.