Making Christmas Specials: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
St. Andrew's Stars Episode:
Hespeler, 29 November, 205 © Scott McAndless – 1st Advent
1 Corinthians 12:12-26, Psalm 133,
baby is born in a cave, a baby who is different from every other child who has ever been seen. And his parents look on him in wonder, not comprehending just how unique their son will be, not understanding how he will grow up to be the saviour of all his kind. That is the classic Christmas story isn’t it? That’s what it’s all about.
What? Oh, I’m not talking about that baby. For lots of people Christmas has very little to do with his birth. You misunderstand me. The baby I’m talking about was actually a fawn. And the parents who wondered at his birth were named Donn
er and Mrs. Donner. The cave was just an ordinary reindeer cave. That’s
the birth I’m talking about. It is a birth that says Christmas to a lot of
people because it is the opening scene of the classic Christmas special, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and, for
them, Christmas cannot really begin until they have seen that special.
Now, I know I could look at that as a negative thing. I could stand here and go on and on about how awful it is that a lot of kids seem to grow up today being a lot more familiar with the story of the birwe tell on Christmas is a lot better than the story of any reindeer, no matter what colour his nose is.
But, of course, it is Christmas time and I don’t want to get all negative about Christmas traditions that people love. And besides, the Rudolph Christmas Special tells a great story – a story that, as far as I am concerned, contains a great deal of truth. And not just any truth either. I find a great deal of gospel truth in this story. It is a great illustration of some key Biblical ideas; ones that we need to take to heart particularly at this time of year.
The story, in case you’re among the seven people in Canada who haven’t seen it, is all about misfits – people who don’t fit in because they are different. Rudolph is a misfit because, of a physical deformity – a big bright shiny red nose. The other main character is Hermey, an elf who doesn’t fit in with the other elves at the North Pole because he doesn’t like the lifestyle. He hates making toys, he doesn’t like singing and all the other things that the elves do. Hermey only wants to be a dentist and nobody can get behind the idea of an elf dentist.
But Rudolph and Hermey aren’t the only misfits. They run off and end up at a place called the
, the place where all the
toys that are unwanted by girls and boys end up. Most of these toys have been
rejected because they are different too – like a Jack-in-the-Box named Charlie,
a bird that can’t fly but only swims, a train with square wheels and a cowboy
who rides an ostrich. So that is what the story is all about – about people who
are different and don’t fit because of it. And that is exactly why the story
has endured as long as it has. It connects with people because everybody has
felt like a misfit at some point in their life or, if they haven’t, they have
known someone who was a misfit. Everyone wonders, at some point or another,
what to do with someone who doesn’t fit in. And when you’re the person who doesn’t fit in, that can be a very painful
question. Island of Misfit Toys
It was also, apparently, a very important question for the early Christian Church – maybe especially the church in the city of Corinth. First of all, it was a church that was made up almost entirely of misfits to start with. They were people who were looked down on and despised by just about everyone they met. Many of them were devalued and despised because they were poor or because they were slaves. They were also all rejected by general society because they had rejected the pagan religion – the worship of the ancient gods. This meant that they could not participate in the activities of an ordinary civic life because they all took place in the temples of and under the patronage of the various gods. They just didn’t belong in the general society but they found a home and a sense of belonging in the life of the church. In Jesus they found someone who loved and accepted them despite all of that.
So that is one part of the answer to the question of what you do with the misfits – you find them a place where they belong and people who accept them for who they are. But that, in itself, is not quite a good enough answer. In the Rudolph special, there actually are a couple of characters who do accept Rudolph as he is. His mother, in particular, makes the decision to simply overlook the nose – to pretend it’s not there. And Clarice, a young doe, befriends Rudolph and doesn’t hold his nose against him. And obviously that measure of acceptance helps Rudolph. (In fact, when Clarice tells him she thinks he’s cute, it makes him fly higher than all the other young reindeer.)
But it is not a complete answer. Despite these exceptions, the main message that Rudolph gets in the first part of the special is that if he wants to be valued and loved, what he needs to do is blend in with everyone else. He needs to stop being a misfit. And so it is that Rudolph’s father, Donner, covers over Rudolph’s bright red nose with brown mud. That muddy cover is the symbol of the pressure that is present, in any group, for people to conform to the norms of that group.
In a way, it is only natural. Whenever people get together or work together they just feel more comfortable to be alongside people who are like them. So there is a natural tendency to pressure people who look different or act different to change themselves to fit in with the majority. Even more important, the majority also sets the standards for advancement. It decides what you need to do or how you need to be in order to gain honour, prestige and glory. If you’re part of a reindeer team, I suppose that would mean that those who fly fastest or highest would have the most honour while those who distract everyone else with their bright shiny noses would only be put down.
Even a society of misfits can end up doing the very same thing. That’s what happened in the group of misfits that was in the church in Corinth. There were some people in the church who had this ability, in the Spirit, of speaking in strange languages. It was, to be sure, a pretty impressive thing to be able to do. And so everyone started to look up to them – to think of them as more spiritual people. Everyone else wanted to be like them and some actually managed to do it.
But this strange speaking was not something that everyone could do. It was a spiritual gift that came from the Holy Spirit. And it didn’t take long for everyone in the church to start treating those who couldn’t do it as misfits – as a lower class of Christians. It’s pretty bad when you think about it. They were doing to these people exactly what the general society around them had done to them – treating people who were different as less valuable. Isn’t human nature grand sometimes!
And so the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians to set them straight. He told them that the Christian church, being made up of misfits as it was, had to behave better than other groups. It had to find a way not merely to tolerate those who were different but to discover how truly valuable they were. That’s what that passage we read this morning is all about. Paul is trying to tell them that the people in the church, who don’t do this funny speaking thing, but who do have other things that they are good at, are not any less valuable than the others. His message is that each one contributes in his or her own way and that when we all do that, the church will be strong.
Now, that sounds like a pretty simple and straightforward idea. When Paul compares the church to a body, for example, and says that each part has its own strengths and contributes in its own way we all nod our heads. When he says, that a body could not function if every part were an eye or if every part were an ear, we all say, “Yes, that makes sense.” But, when it comes to practically living together with peace and understanding and working together to reach common goals, that can be a different story.
That’s why I think a story like the one in the Rudolph special can be so helpful for us. It can become a kind of parable for us. Because the Rudolph story isn’t just a story of acceptance, it is a story of value and true contribution. At the end of the story, as we all know, Rudolph doesn’t just find acceptance in the reindeer herd in spite of his deformity. His deformity actually saves everyone by making it possible for Santa to navigate in the fog. What is different and unique about Rudolph actually turns out to be absolutely essential to everyone. In addition, Hermey also saves everyone from an attack by an abominable snowman by pulling out the monster’s teeth and proves that even elves need dentists.
And that is what is so hard for us to understand in the church. That is why we need such a simple illustration as what we find in this story to get it through to us. That is what the church is about too. The church is a society of misfits. But it is not that, in the church, we are all just tolerated in spite of our own little problems and idiosyncrasies. It is not that we smile to people’s faces but then, when they turn their backs, we roll our eyes or say bad things about them. That might be good enough for a workplace situation or some other casual relationship, but it is not good enough for the church. Here we love them and value them for who they are.
Now I know that that is something that doesn’t always come easily. Sometimes there is something about another person that just rubs you the wrong way or drives you crazy. But in the church, this society of misfits, we learn that God made our brothers and sisters as they are for a reason. That God put something special in each sister and brother that allows them to contribute in a way that no one else can. And I know that you may not always see that at first, but you can take it on faith. You can believe that the God who created them was able to put something valuable in them. And from that attitude of faith you will, in time, come to see what that special thing is.
But the other side of that is even more powerful. Being part of the church – of this society of misfits – means that you come to see that value in yourself. You begin to see that you are loved and valued by your God and by your fellow misfits, not merely in spite of your little personal quirks and faults, but precisely because you are the person that those things made you. This too is an attitude of faith. It is the belief that the God who made you doesn’t make junk and that even in the things that have gone wrong for you God can have a plan for good.
The love that you can experience in God and in God’s representatives is not a grudging love – a love in spite of who you are. It is a full whole-hearted love for who you are. That doesn’t mean that you cannot strive and work to become even better than you are – to become the best that you can be – but it does mean that, wherever you are on that journey right now, you can move forward in confidence that you are loved and valued. And that is something that can make your heart fly as high as one of Santa’s reindeer.