They say there are four phases in life. In the first phase you believe in Father Christmas. In the second phase you don’t believe in Father Christmas. In the third phase you are Father Christmas. In the final phase you just look like Father Christmas. The blockbuster film in the cinema’s this week, from the makers of Wallace and Gromit, is aptly titled “Arthur Christmas”. It includes a grandfather, father and two sons, who embody at least three of these phases in life. The film at last reveals the incredible, never-before seen answer to every child’s question: ‘How does Santa deliver all those presents in one night?’
But after 70 annual deliveries, Father Christmas, whose real name is Malcolm, is nearly ready to hand over the red cloak to his oldest son and heir, Steve. Malcolm is now merely the figurehead of what has become an ultra-high-tech global package-delivering corporation hidden beneath the North Pole. Steve seeks the glory of the position of Santa Claus, not the joy of bringing happiness to children around the world. He runs Santa’s headquarters like a military command centre, with thousands of commando elves at his disposal, and a goatee cut in the shape of a Christmas tree.
While Steve is an all-go no-quit kind of guy, his younger brother, Arthur is a rather bumbling, afraid of heights, things that go fast, and buttons kind of person. Arthur’s only responsibility is to read the request letters children send to Santa. He works down a long corridor in the Letters Division. Arthur reads each letter and personally and lovingly answers every single one of them. He ensures each child receives the very present requested. The film opens late on Christmas Eve. In total darkness, two billion toys and presents are delivered on time, in perfect Mission Impossible style with the giant SI radar-defying stealth sleigh shaped spaceship. Elves drinking hot chocolate with marshmallows chart and graph every movement with Google Earth-like precision. Harnessed Special Forces elves descend from the giant present carrying spacecraft, delivering perfectly wrapped packages to two billion sleeping children. However, upon Arthur’s stumbling entrance into Command Central with a handful of children’s letters, one toy is accidentally knocked over into a pile of old, discarded wrapping and missed.
That means one child won’t get a present. One child has been forgotten at Christmas. It is almost dawn when the mistake is discovered. Steve and Santa brush it off. There isn’t time to deliver it anyway. Out of the two billion presents delivered, only one present got missed. Steve, unmoved, is more concerned about the precision of his prized Santa spaceship, viewing one child out of millions as an acceptable margin of error. In any corporation, a 0.000000000125% margin for error would be seen as absolute success. But not to Arthur. Arthur is stunned. He can’t understand why his dad and his brother are willing to let one child go un-presented. To Arthur, every child is important. Good-natured and compassionate Arthur cannot bear the thought of one little forgotten girl waking up on Christmas morning, believing she is the only child in the world to be unloved by Santa.
While Santa goes to bed and Steve shuts down operations for another year, only Arthur still believes in the self-giving spirit of Christmas. He is the only one willing to sacrifice himself for a stranger’s happiness. Without giving any more of the story away, Arthur overcomes his fears and decides, with the dawn fast approaching, it’s up to him, his senile Grandad Santa, some aging reindeer, a rusty sleigh and a Scottish elf called Bryony, to embark on a dangerous and frightening journey to deliver one little girl’s present before she wakes up. The story is deep, the humour is innocent and the characters are wonderfully life-like – even more so in 3D.
And, if you have eyes to see, the parallels with the real Christmas story, shine through like stars twinkling on a clear night sky. Even the carol ‘Silent Night’ is sung and a church is prominent in the village. Arthur Christmas inspires us to value what may have been labelled “ancient” or “antique.” Outdated does not necessarily mean useless, and that applies to both history, objects and people. Likewise, we are taught the importance of family, and the value of finding love and support in one another.
The film’s subtitle is “Two billion presents delivered in one night: It takes a family”. Arthur’s passion motivates his family to work together, fulfil their purpose and complete the mission. His self-sacrifice convinces them that every single child on earth matters. Jesus once told a similar story about a shepherd who had one hundred sheep. Ninety-nine of them were safe, cared for, penned and guarded, but one was missing. Jesus asked, “What will the shepherd do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness to go search for the one until he finds it?” Jesus was making the point that heaven rejoices over the one lost-now-found sinner more than the ninety-nine who are already safe.
To Arthur, every child deserves Santa. Every child deserves that warm-cheeked feeling of coming downstairs to the tree, opening a present, and finding their young heart’s desire beneath the wrappings. To Jesus, every soul deserves the same. Every soul deserves that warm-cheeked feeling of coming to the cross, ripping open their hearts, and finding salvation in the arms of a loving saviour. Take time this Christmas to savour the incredible and profound truth that God sent His Son, to live and die for the forgiveness of your sins. Jesus came to fill the void in your life that success and materialism cannot satisfy, and give you the one gift, the ultimate gift that will last forever. Being born again into God’s family, enjoying his tender fatherly care for ever and ever.
Arthur Christmas may be aimed at the young at heart. But remember Jesus also said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3). God does not expect us to understand everything about him or his purposes for our lives – but simply to trust him, to want to know him and discover our purpose in life in an exciting adventure that will never end. If you are asking the question “What should I do to receive this gift of new birth?” remember this promise God makes:
“to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husbands will, but born of God.” (John 1:12-13).
I am going to talk to God and you may like to say this prayer with me if it expresses your heart’s desire.
“Loving Father, with child-like trust, help me to welcome and receive Jesus as my Lord and Saviour, so that this Christmas I can share in the song of angels, express the gladness of the shepherds, and truly worship like the wise men. Deliver me from evil by the blessing which only Christ can bring. Come into my life and give me a clean, pure and forgiven heart. May Christmas morning make me truly happy to be your child, and Christmas evening bring me to my bed with grateful thoughts, forgiving and forgiven, for Jesus’ sake, Amen!”
I invite you to make room for Jesus in your life this Christmas. And may God bless you and those you love. Amen.
The closing prayer is adapted from one written by Robert Louis Stevenson.
Quotes, ideas and inspiration for this sermon are drawn with sincere thanks from the following reviews and homilies: