There is a great difference in excellency, usefulness, and comfort between people of clear, digested knowledge, and confused, undigested apprehensions. -Richard Baxter

engaging Advent

Perhaps you’ve already seen it. You didn’t plan for it, but as you scanned the channels, there it was. And even if the thought of spending the couple of hours it takes to view it turned your stomach, once your eyes deciphered just a few frames of its technicolor grandeur you felt yourself strangely led to stop and stare, and even stick with it.

I’m talking about White Christmas. Danny Kaye. Bing Crosby. Flowing red velvet, Santa-esque outfits in the final scene. My father is nearly 85 so the film has a certain added intrigue for me because it’s a window of sorts into his generation–the WWII generation who spent a Christmas or three in a distant location, far from the pleasantries of the Christmas pageantry in America.

The film is so full of sweetness it’s an oddity, I think, to most people my age. We’re not accustomed to seeing this kind of theme without throwing into the film a little dash of prurience (think: The Holiday), or a pinch of coarseness (think: Fred Clause) just to make the story seem…real.

On the whole, the film has no interest in making much of the reason for the season. That’s okay. There is however one scene–the emotional apex of the film, I think–that delivers the Gospel unwitttingly, but wonderfully.

(If you’ve not seen White Christmas, this will spoil it for you, but you have had 53 years to see it.)

Kaye and Crosby play two army-buddies whose relationship was cemented not only by helping one another survive the European theater of WWII but by their talents at putting on a pretty good song and dance show. They served under the same Major General, Thomas Waverly (played by Dean Jagger), and came to deeply respect their commander in the field.

After the war Kaye and Crosby team up for a touring act, while their major spends his retirement maintaining a beautiful, but struggling inn in picturesque Vermont. The duo end up spending a few days at the inn (in pursuit of a couple lovely ladies–themselves just as talented–whose fancy struck them; the love story that actually propels the film’s plot). When they discover that it’s their former commander running the inn, and that the inn could use some business they hatch a plan, unbeknownst to the major: they call upon their former unit to assemble surreptitiously at the inn and put on a show to salute and celebrate their brave leader. (how the major fails to notice the arrival and planning of some 100 men and their families for some giant celebration still escapes me).

The plan works to perfection, with some tense moments when you think the major will discover their furtive attempts to regale him with love and respect. The show is rehearsed, the hall is adorned, a giant cake prepared. And the major general is cajoled into wearing his dress uniform and appear in the hall for what he thinks is just another Christmas show.

As the major general enters the hall, the men of his erstwhile company come to attention. He is taken aback at the display of admiration, if only for a moment, and quickly hides his overwhelm behind the stoicism they’re accustomed to seeing, and which served them in battle. He rehearses reviewing his company, like he’d dome scores of times before, and feigns a few derisive scowls as to their condition, and then concluding his review with a final note of earnest appreciation for the show of love.

These men loved this major. He’d led them in battle. He’d sacrificed all he had to see that not only was their mission accomplished but that all his men might savor the victory by surviving the war. It was his love and bravery that kept them from thinking twice about dropping everything and grabbing a train to Vermont to salute him. It was his clear, albeit stern, care for them that led them to rehearse with abandon this act of entertaining gratitude for their major. It was his intrinsic nobility, if you will, that led them to stand at attention when he entered the room. They were not there to earn his affection. They knew they had it. They were not there to win points with their commander. He served them by leading them–even when they committed the most egregious displays of ignorance or folly.

All their expressions of love and respect were motivated by pure admiration for the one who led and served them.

I think that is what we call Gospel-motivation. When we see Him as He is–albeit through a glass darkly–we cannot but desire to stand up straight, to prepare ourselves for His coming, to show Him our utmost respect.  It’s not about scoring points with Him. It’s not about trying to impress Him.  It’s not about trying to get something from Him.  It’s about according Him the respect not only that He deserves but which our hearts believe Him to deserve.  Gospel-motivation is not conflicted–that is, it’s not a doing something for Him but really believing something else about Him. It’s not the pretense summarized in a little refrigerator magnet an acquaintance picked up for me at a Lollapalooza concert, saying, “Jesus is coming. Look Busy.”

So as you prepare yourself during Advent–that is, making time to reacquire that sense that what awaits us in Christ is more glorious and more liberating than anything we can imagine–would you also take the time to inventory your own motivations.  Have you lost sight of why you obey?  What are your motives behind your obedience?  If He walked into a hall and reviewed you and your comrades would your impetus for giving Him your attention be out of an attempt to secure His admiration? Or would it be because you knew that He was simply worthy of that attention?

It’s not a small matter.

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