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FIRST-PERSON: Searching for Christ in Christmas movies

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (BP)–During this Christmas season, I have reviewed 15 made-for-TV films and one new theatrical release, each exploring a holiday theme. Sadly, their warm and fuzzy storylines left out one important factor — the birth of Christ. Peace on earth was valued, just not the Prince of Peace. Only two of the holiday films this year have mentioned Jesus, his birth or his purpose. The filmmakers labored to make little ones believe in Santa and older viewers to just believe in something — anything.

In ABC’s “Mr. Saint Nick,” Kelsey Grammer embarrassed himself with the poor man’s version of “The Santa Clause,” giving us an inept and unfunny “family” film about a playboy forced to replace his aging Santa father. Though supposedly aimed at the family, I wondered why there were sexual innuendo and drinking and drug references in a film about Santa Claus. I also wondered why the NBC “Frasier” star, who already has ten jillion dollars and a comfortable place in TV history, would sleigh-ride over to ABC to make this nonsense.

In the CBS Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation, “The Locket,” an adult melodrama, gaining and maintaining faith was at the core of the film’s narration. But faith in what? God was never mentioned, let alone his only begotten Son. We did see a character reading a Bible in one scene, but that was pretty much it for any specification as to any spiritual dynamics.

Although the holiday took on a commercial aspect years ago, and the letter X replaced Christ to help merchandisers save space, there are now motions afoot to eliminate Christ altogether from the Dec. 25 observance. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the products Hollywood makes to amuse us.

“The Christmas Shoes,” a CBS weeper about a loved one dying on Christmas day, had some nice moments, including a thought-provoking scene where a little boy asks his dying mother, “Why is God taking you?” The teary-eyed mom gently responds with, “He’s not taking me, so much as receiving me.” That’s a nice line and a touching moment. But still, Christ was avoided, with the spotlight placed on a young boy getting his sick mother a pair of shoes to wear to heaven.

ABC’s Family Network featured an original movie this month called “Three Days.” In it a neglectful husband loses his wife in a Christmas Eve accident. An angel soon appears, supplying a miracle … with a catch. The couple is allowed to relive the previous three days. But despite the husband’s efforts to show his mate how much he loves her, the angel tells him that her fate cannot be changed. It’s a nice film with an angel, a couple of miracles and, by film’s end, a desire to snuggle with someone near and dear by a yuletide log. But the filmmakers do their best to avoid any mention of Jesus — not even in the film’s incorporated caroling songs (“We Wish You A Merry Christmas,” “I’ll Be Home For Christmas”).

Perhaps the silliest Christmas-themed program ever is the animated 1991 “Silent Mouse.” This preposterous children’s video has a church mouse giving us an account of how the famous carol, “Silent Night,” was written. Aimed at kids, I found the premise offensive, much like hearing the “Hallelujah Chorus” used in a toilet cleanser commercial (it’s been done). One of the most moving songs of all time, Silent Night has an incredible story behind its writing. But rather than focus on the men who created this wonderful song, we get a silly story of an “organ” mouse who saves the day. Again, Christ is ignored. Which is not easy to do, considering the theme song is about his birth.

Why is the entertainment industry so determined to abandon the Christ child? It wasn’t always that way. In a recent re-viewing of the 1947 version of “The Bishop’s Wife,” with Cary Grant and Loretta Young, I marveled at the ending sermon given by the bishop, played by David Niven. Standing behind his pulpit, the Reverend reminded his parishioners to focus attention on Christ. “All the stockings are filled, except one. We’ve even forgotten to hang it up. The stocking for the child born in a manger. It’s his birthday we’re celebrating. Don’t let us ever forget that. Let us each ask what he would wish for most. And then, let each put in his share.” Wow.

In the 1951 rendition of “A Christmas Carol,” starring Alastair Sim as Scrooge, the British filmmakers stayed close to Dickens’ themes and included several references to the need for Christ in our hearts. There are Christmas songs sung, extolling our Savior’s birth, a grieving family reading the Bible around the hearth, Ghost of Christmas Present demanding that Ebenezer seek the Christ child in the hearts of men of good will and, of course, Tiny Tim’s entreaty, “God bless us, every one.”

These are just two examples where Christ was included in early Tinseltown’s salute to the holidays (please look at the adjoining compilation of Christmas films). But the closer we came to the new millennium, the further filmmakers distanced themselves from the mention of Jesus, unless using it as a profane expletive. “The Preacher’s Wife,” for example, the 1996 remake of “The Bishop’s Wife,” with Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston, is replete with moral teachings concerning marriage, home life, faith and the fact that we can make a positive difference in the lives of others. Sadly, although the story is about religious people and takes place at Christmastime, the name of Jesus is never uttered.

Sadder still is the fact that few filmmakers these days sense a need to supply the viewing public with gospel-respectful messages. What’s that say about those of us who frequent the movies?
Christian critic Phil Boatwright suggests video alternatives in his reviews. Check out his site at www.moviereporter.com.

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  • Phil Boatwright