Read this message transcript from the "Box Office Wisdom: Christmas Edition" message series
Matt Sturdevant: Good morning and welcome to Hope. I'm Matt Sturdevant. I'm the executive pastor here. I have a confession to make that I hope you won't think any less of me for this confession, but I absolutely love this movie, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. It is in my top favorite movies of all time, and definitely my favorite Christmas movie. In fact, I have some Clark Griswold socks here, as well. This movie has a little something for everyone in it. It has Christmas. It has comedy. It has family drama. In fact, when my wife and I were married, we got married in January of 2002, and as we were thinking towards Christmas later that year, our very first Christmas together as a married couple, we started a new family tradition, the two of us. That was on Thanksgiving weekend we would watch Christmas Vacation together. Sometimes we would watch it on Thanksgiving night.
If you haven't seen this movie before, or perhaps it's been a long time for you, I want to just give you a brief synopsis of what this movie is all about. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation was originally released on December 1, 1989. That's 29 years ago. You saw there in the opening scene that we got to watch, that was part of the opening scene, and you got to meet the Griswold family—Clark and Ellen, their daughter Audrey, and their son, Rusty. Now this movie is the third one in the National Lampoon’s Vacation series. It comes after their road trip to Wally World, after their trip to Europe. This time Clark is obsessed with having the perfect Christmas holiday season. It's out of this nostalgic desire, remembering the past, that he wants to have a good old fashioned family Christmas. He's also banking on this big Christmas bonus that is sure to arrive any day now.
Now as soon as the guests and the family start arriving that's when things really start getting out of hand. In fact, it begins with both sets of parents arriving to the front door at the same time arguing. It all goes downhill from there. Things really get out of hand when they have an unexpected guest arrive in an RV from Kansas. The movie takes the form of an advent calendar where we get to see what happens each day leading up to Christmas. It starts on December 14th, and then each day they open up another little door in the advent calendar, and we get to see what happens with the craziness culminating on December 24th, Christmas Eve. Even more family comes over for Christmas Eve celebration. The turkey is ruined; the house is destroyed multiple times, and at least at one point, it looks like all hope for Christmas is lost. That is Christmas Vacation.
I mean the holidays can be stressful, right? It's a stressful time of year even if you're not Clark Griswold. But I think what makes this movie so funny and so relatable is how realistic it is in an outrageous sort of way. We've all got family dynamics and things going on in our own families, and sometimes when we look at what's happening in this movie we're saying, “Yeah, that's happened to me,” or “I thought that,” or sometimes we laugh this uneasy laugh because we're glad that it's Clark Griswold experiencing it and not us personally. But this movie has a little something for everyone. In fact, maybe you can relate to the family dynamics or some of the characters. You may have a Cousin Eddie in your family. If it's taking you a while to come up with who is Cousin Eddie in your family, it might be you.
Two quick disclaimers I want to give you, though, as we get started. One is about the movie; the other is about our time today. This movie is rated PG-13, and some scenes in this movie are not suitable for younger audiences. Please do not race home, gather the family up, make some popcorn, and sit down and say, “Hey kids, we're going to watch Pastor Matt's favorite Christmas movie!” unless you plan to do some fast forwarding and skipping through some scenes. Because this is one of those movies where if you grew up watching the TV version and then you saw the non-TV version, you realize there's a difference. The second disclaimer is that this movie is 29 years old, and we're not going to give you the no-spoiler-alert promise that we do during our summer box office wisdom series when we're looking at new movies. You've had 29 years to see this movie if you want to, and I'm going to feel perfectly fine talking about as much of this movie as I feel is relevant to our time today.
When the 25th anniversary edition of this movie came out a few years ago, People Magazine put together a list of 25 life lessons we learned from Christmas Vacation. We're not going to look at all 25. I'm going to share what I feel are the top eight that are appropriate for mixed audiences here in a church service. Here we go. Number one—it never, never pays to be an angry driver, all the more so during the holidays. When you find the right tree, you just know it. We got to see that in the clip. Yet, you cannot underestimate the importance of checking that your Christmas tree is the right size for your living room. It's just full. Elegantly orchestrated Christmas lights are one of the greatest, purest joys that a homeowner can hope to experience. Look at that pure joy on Clark Griswold's face. We'll come back to this one and talk a little bit more later.
Number five, however there is something to be said for restraint when it comes to decorating. Number six, the holidays make for a handy time to remind us that we should all love our family members, however different they may be. Number seven, now this is practical and important; don't be like Cousin Katherine—don't put the turkey in too early. Then number eight—this is another one very practical for all of us; unless the SWAT team is showing up and raiding the house, you could be having a worse Christmas, so remember that on Christmas.
This list has got some fun and some serious lessons from Christmas Vacation. What I want to do with the rest of our time today is focus on what I'm calling “Grisdom” for my life. What's Grisdom? It's a made-up word—Clark Griswold wisdom. Grisdom for my life. Now, from the movie if you've seen it, it appears that Clark probably lacks very much or any real wisdom. But if you take a look at the approaches that he uses, his approach to Christmas and the time leading up, if we will take a posture of humility and teachability, there's actually some things that we can learn that are really important for our own lives. That's why “Grisdom.” As we evaluate and consider what's going on in our own head, in our own hearts in these three key areas of life. There's a listening guide if you'd like to follow along as we take a look at Grisdom for my life.
The first area is the E word—expectations. We all have expectations. We all have them all the time. They're going on whether or not we're even aware, and often we don't know that we had an expectation until things don't add up to the expectation that we had that we didn't even know was there. This is no different during the Christmas season. We can really build things up in our minds when it comes to Christmas, just like we saw with Clark Griswold. In fact, to expect means “to look forward to, to regard it as likely to happen.” Often we get our hearts wrapped up in expectations. If we expect it to happen, then it's gonna happen. This is just the way life works. When we take a look at the movie Christmas Vacation, we see that Clark is a man of great expectations.
When I say great expectations, I mean it in the full sense of the words great as in he's got huge expectations, and great as in the number of expectations that Clark has. But there's sort of two root expectations that he has that kind of drive everything else. Clark's expectations are to have a good old fashioned family Christmas and to get his bonus. These are his expectations. Pretty much all of the humor and the drama that we see in this movie are rooted in these two expectations of the good old-fashioned family Christmas and the desire for this bonus to show up. Clark's got expectations, but what about you. As you think about Christmas, it's just 16 days away, what are your expectations for Christmas this year? Take just a moment. Jot something down there in the blank line that says “me.” This is for you to fill in what your expectation is. Maybe it's a certain and specific gift that you're expecting to receive. Maybe it's an experience that you would like for your family to have, or maybe it's time with certain people. We've all got expectations. What are you expecting this Christmas?
Now there's a scene about 10 minutes into the movie where after they have installed that full, sappy Christmas tree, Clark and Ellen are lying in bed, and they're getting ready to go to sleep. And Ellen sort of double checks with Clark on what he really wants to happen. I want to kind of reenact that for you here on the stage. When I stand over here, I'm Clark Griswold, and when I stand over here, I'm his wife, Ellen. The scene starts with Clark saying, “I want to have Christmas here in our house.” She's asking him are you sure this is what you want. He says, “All my life I've wanted to have a big family Christmas.” Ellen lovingly looks at her husband and says, "I know how you build things up in your mind, Sparky." That's his nickname—Sparky. "You set standards that no family event can ever live up to." Then Clark, like us men, looks at his wife with a statement like that and says, "When have I ever done that?" She very patiently gives him a list of seven things as the scene ends and goes on to the next one. She says, "Parties, weddings, anniversaries, funerals, holidays, vacations, and graduations."
Clark is a man of great expectations. We all have our own expectations when it comes to Christmas. Perhaps you wrote down something like getting the whole family together, maybe seeing friends and family that you haven't seen in a while and you're not sure where the relationship stands. Or maybe being stressed out about seeing those friends and family that you haven't seen in a while and you're not sure where the relationship stands. Or maybe you have an expectation of getting the perfect family photo. Here is this 1989 glorious family photo of the Griswold family. Now as it would be, life orchestrated itself such that I have some brand new fresh material from my own life to encourage you with if one of your expectations is to get the perfect family photo.
My daughter will be three next month, and my son is about 16 months old. On Friday we got the kids together to go have a Christmas photo taken. We had some expectations. This photo of my two precious children, this is the best photo that we walked away with, with the Christmas background. They would not both look at the camera at the same time and smile. They were very happy throughout this time. In fact, in this particular photo where Kai is looking at the photo and he sort of, I guess he's going like ... Then his sister is looking at him smiling. They're very happy. This is the best Christmas photo that we walked away with. Now this next photo here just shows you how delightful and happy they were, but there's no Christmas background in this one. If you have an expectation of getting the perfect family photo, or the perfect photo of your children this year and it doesn't happen, just think back to me and think back to this example here.
Perhaps you wrote down an expectation of staying up really late on Christmas Eve putting toys together. That's on my list. Or being really, really tired on December 26th. We've all got expectations all of the time, and often during the Christmas season expectations can be the source of happiness or the source of pain for us. When it comes to expectations there's really two paths that our expectations lead to. First path is you have an expectation, that expectation is met. That means what you expected to occur actually occurs. That results in joy, happiness, fulfillment, whatever it is that you were hoping to feel and experience based on this expectation being met.
Although, there's another path. There's a darker path. That path is you have an expectation that is unmet. That unmet expectation leads to disappointment. Sometimes the disappointment is in a person, and then you can begin to resent that person because they disappointed you by not meeting the expectation that you had for them. Too many of these happening over and over can actually lead to discouragement. Now if you're having trouble trying to identify, “Well, what's an expectation? What does that mean?” Just ask yourself this—“what would I be disappointed in if it didn't occur? I would be disappointed if blank doesn't occur.” Whatever the blank is—getting a perfect Christmas photo of your children—whatever that blank is, that's the thing that's your expectation.
Now I want to watch a clip from the movie here, and let's see how expectations play out for our good friend, Clark Griswold. You get to see a little family dynamics in there, as well.
Clark had an expectation. The expectation was that the house was going to light up. He had 25,000 lights that he put on the house. Expectation was that they were going to light when he turned the switch on. That did not happen. Now you have a man who is very disappointed. In fact, when it comes to expectations there's kind of four basic emotions that seem to surface. There's two emotions for the person with the expectation, and then two emotions that those that are not meeting the expectation can experience. Now before I share what those four emotions are, I want you to watch another clip and see if you can guess what the emotion is that Clark is experiencing here.
Clark was experiencing an emotion. He went from pure joy because the lights came on, and then they went off, and then he was angry. I mean what did that poor Santa do to him. The emotions, two emotions that the person with the expectation can feel is you can feel anger if your expectation is blocked, which is what happened here. Or you can feel sadness when there's this sense of loss that occurs. But when it comes to people that are trying to meet your expectations, there's two emotions that they can feel when that doesn't happen. The first one is anxiety. Have you ever felt anxiety when you were uncertain or unclear what someone's expectations were for you? You're trying desperately, I want to do that thing that you want, but I don't know what you want. So we feel anxiety. Or, you feel shame because you just fail all the time. I can never meet the expectations, so I feel shame.
We've got these four emotions: anger, sadness, anxiety, and shame. Now eventually the problem is resolved, and the lights work completely and for the rest of the movie. You saw that picture earlier when we went through that People list of the house all lit up in its glory with the 25,000 lights. Now when it comes to expectations, I want to give you a quick three question test that you can use to consider expectations that you have. First question is “Has my expectation been expressed?” Has my expectation been expressed, or is it just here in my head? Have I actually verbalized it and the words have come out of my lips? Guys, has your wife ever gone to the grocery store, come back with bags and bags of groceries, nowhere to be found is your favorite cereal that only you eat that you didn't tell her you were out of? You didn't express the fact that you were out of your cereal. Or ladies, have you ever been disappointed at your husband for not doing that chore around the house that really needs to be done that you never told him about?
The truth is that no matter how smart or good looking your spouse is, a mind reader they are not. If we don't ever express our expectation, there's no way that that can be met. In fact, unspoken expectations almost guarantee unfulfillment. We've got to express our expectations. In fact, in the Bible we find many, many examples of God giving expectations of his people, or people communicating expectations to one another. I listed a couple of references there for you. In Genesis chapter 24, we find Abraham speaking to his servant, giving him a very specific list of expectations on the type of wife that he is to go find for his son, Isaac. Then in Joshua chapter 6, we get the expectations that God has for the way that God's people are to take the city of Jericho and what they're to do with the plunder that would be left in the city. This is just a couple of examples. You can find them though throughout scripture as God and people communicating very clear expectations.
The next question, after has it been expressed, is is my expectation realistic. Is it rooted in reality? Unrealistic expectations are pretty much sure to not be met. In fact, as much as I would like to be able to dunk a basketball like Michael Jordan, I am 5'8" and I cannot jump. It's just not going to happen. If I set my hopes and my expectations on the fact that I'm ever going to be able to dunk a basketball like Michael Jordan, then I'm just like setting myself up for a disappointing life in general. Our expectations have to be rooted in reality. In fact, someone once said that unrealistic expectations are premeditated resentments. Think about that for a minute. If the expectations that we have for our spouse, or our kids, or our parents, or other people in life are not realistic, it's really just premeditated resentment that we're setting ourselves up for. And, we're setting them up to feel anxiety or shame because there's no way they can meet those expectations.
The third question is “does my expectation need to be negotiated?” Now maybe I have expressed my expectation, but it's not realistic so it's need to be negotiated down to reality. Case in point with the photo that we looked at earlier. We had this expectation of getting a Christmas photo. In the moment in order to prevent parental anger and child anxiety and shame, we changed the expectation. The expectation then became “let's get the best photo possible in December of 2018 with some type of Christmas background.” Expectation met—joy, happiness, fulfillment. Sometimes we have to negotiate the expectations. Whether or not you can relate to Clark's expectations for Christmas, we all have our own, and that's something we need to consider.
The next area we need to look at in life is our priorities. We've got expectations. We've also got priorities. Priorities are the ranking that we place on things. Some things are more important than others. Priorities are good. They help us direct the resources that we have—the time, the money, the energy. As you look at the movie Christmas Vacation, Clark has some pretty clear priorities. For Clark his priorities are happiness and fulfillment. Being happy and being fulfilled is what he's banking on. It's what he's putting all of his energy into. It's how he's making the decisions; it’s what's going to make him happy and fulfilled. In fact, one of Clark's expectations is this Christmas bonus. He's received them in the past, and why wouldn't he receive one this year? In fact, Clark, with this priority of happiness and fulfillment, has decided that he's going to put a pool in.
In order to get the pool put in as soon as possible once the ground thaws in the spring, he had to write a $7,500 check, a deposit for this pool. Now in 1989, $7,500—if you adjust it for inflation, we're talking about $15,000 today that he would have written a check for with no money to cover it expecting this bonus to come. His priority is on the happiness and the fulfillment. There's nothing wrong with wanting to be happy and wanting to be fulfilled. The problem comes is when that's the thing that we're chasing after, it doesn't come that way. In fact, happiness and fulfillment are actually a byproduct, not a priority.
If we take a look in the Bible we see that King Solomon of ancient Israel, he lived about 3,000 years ago. He was the wisest and richest man who'd ever lived. He literally had the resources to do whatever he wanted to do whenever he wanted to do it, and he did it. He wrote the book of Ecclesiastes as sort of this evaluation on life. Listen to what he has to say about how to find happiness. He says, "To the man who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind." Clark's priority of happiness and fulfillment, but according to King Solomon if we want happiness what we actually need to do is make pleasing God our priority. Then as a result of making pleasing God our priority, the happiness and the fulfillment come after that.
We can do a whole message or even a whole series about what it is that pleases God, but I want to just give you four quick categories of things that please God. I've given you some verses there in your handout that you can do some more study on this if you like. Four things that please God. First, trusting Jesus with our lives. This is something that pleases God. We're going to talk more about this in a minute. Second is love God by obeying him. Third is we love others by helping them. In fact, what we find in the scriptures is love has action behind it. It's not just this emotion like I love you. There's actually action behind love. Then the fourth thing is that we handle our stewardships faithfully. How do we please God? We trust Jesus Christ with our lives; we love God by obeying him. We love others by helping them, and then we handle our stewardships faithfully. That's how we please God.
Christmas Vacation, this movie, when we look at Grisdom for our lives it causes us to evaluate our expectations, our priorities, and then the third area is our focus—the focus that we have. The question is “who or what will be at the center of our things this Christmas for me personally?” In the movie, Christmas Vacation, it's pretty clear that Clark Griswold is Clark Griswold's focus. His focus is himself. He's chasing after the expectations and the priorities that he has with himself in mind. Clark's focus is himself. The truth with this one is, and this is where you laugh and movies and things because there's an uneasy but there's a truth in the uneasiness, the truth is that it's really easy for you and I to have ourselves be the focus of Christmas. In fact, we might be more sophisticated than Clark Griswold is, but really the truth is that deep down in our hearts we're selfish. This resides in the human heart.
In fact, no one is more deserving than we are. This is something that we all struggle with. But when it comes to Christmas did you know that in the fourth century the church decided to make Jesus's birthday a holiday. It was Pope Julius I who chose the date of December 25th. Jesus was probably not actually born on December 25th. Then years and years later, in 1870, President Ulysses S. Grant made Christmas a federal holiday here in the United States. Christmas is about so much more than Christmas trees and about decorating with great lights. It's about more than family gatherings, and it's about more than that wonderful amazing thing that I hope to unwrap on Christmas morning.
The most significant event in all of human history is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is what we celebrate at Easter. Because of the resurrection of Jesus, those of us who are his followers we get to have real life in the here and now on this planet, and we get to spend eternity in Heaven with God our Father. The real focus of Christmas is keeping Christ at the center of the celebration. We've got to keep Christ at the center. Galatians chapter 4 tells us, "But when the fullness of time had come," and that means that in just the right perfect moment, "when the fullness of time had come God sent forth his son, born of a woman, born under the law to redeem those who were under the law so that we might receive adoption as sons."
You see, God made us to love us and to have a relationship with us. We're the ones that messed that up by doing what God said not to do. The Bible calls this sin. The penalty for sin is eternal separation from God. In fact, in our Bible all this happens in the first three chapters. But you know what? There's a whole lot more to the Bible than the first three chapters. The rest of the story, the entire rest of the story, is about God making a way, about God pursuing us and making a way for us to be brought back into a loving relationship with him. That's what we find in the Bible. In fact, as you take a look in the garden right after Adam and Eve have sinned and we now have this penalty, God is talking to the serpent; the devil came in the form of the serpent, and God is talking to him. This is what God says to the serpent. He says, "I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your offspring and her offspring. He shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel."
Well fast forward to near the end of the Bible in 1 John 3:8. It says, "The reason the Son of God appears was to destroy the works of the devil." Jesus, when he came, is the fulfillment of God's promise that was given right there in the garden. His death on the cross is the payment for our sins so that we could once again have a loving relationship with God. God's redemptive plan was for Jesus to come to this planet, for Jesus to model a perfect sinless life, model for us how do we live life in a way that's pleasing to God, and then for him to die on the cross, to pay the price for our sins, and then to be raised again. You see Christmas is the celebration of Jesus's birth. Birth had to happen so that 33 years later Jesus could die. His death made a way for me, made a way for you, made a way for the entire world to be made right with God and to be brought back into a loving relationship with our heavenly father.
So when we give gift this Christmas, when we receive gifts, the gifts are not to just get the cool stuff, but the gifts are a celebration of God's gift, a celebration of God's kindness, his generosity when he gifted to the entire world his son, his only son that whoever believes in him would not perish but have eternal life, his Son, Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life, his Son, Jesus, who came so that we could have life and that we could have life abundantly. So as Christmas approaches, as we have our expectations, as we have our priorities, as we have our own focus, keeping Christ at the center of the celebration helps us adjust the expectations, adjust the priorities, and adjust the focus when and where needed.
Now perhaps you're here this morning and you've not yet yielded your life to Jesus, I want to invite you to yield your life to Jesus Christ, to experience the gift that his death bought us, the gift of having a right relationship with God, a gift of having our sins paid for by the blood of Jesus. I want to invite you this Christmas to get to experience the real meaning of Christmas by becoming a follower of Jesus. Now if you're here and you're already a follower of Jesus, I want to remind you, I want to remind myself to keep Christ at the center and remember as we give gifts to those we love, God gave the greatest gift to us, his own Son, Jesus. Would you join me in prayer?
Father, thank you for your love and your faithfulness to keep your promises and to aggressively pursue us even as we rebel against you. Father, thank you that Jesus is the offspring that you promised in the garden and the fact that He did come and that He did destroy the works of the devil. Thank you that while we were still sinners you sent Him out of love and kindness. Father, as we're in the middle of the Christmas season, as Christmas day is quickly approaching, please help us to remember what Christmas is all about. Please help us in the midst to keep our expectations and our priorities in line with keeping Christ at the center of the celebration. It's in Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.