Having watched Christmas Vacation a million times, I only recently noticed its theology. I suppose I was too busy laughing, but mixed between Cousin Eddie in the driveway and blazing sled rides, is the common beliefs of America. You find it when the prayer over a dry turkey becomes the Pledge of Allegiance.
It is also Clark’s generic words on the Christmas star, “it means something different to everyone”. This then breaks into singing the Star Spangled Banner. Clark looking skyward with his hand over his heart. Of course the song ends with “Play Ball!” (sports may be our true passion).
The movie’s theology is a mash-up of patriotism and religion. All meant as a joke, but any good joke runs close to the truth. And this mash-up captures the faith of many Americans. Where the cross and flag move hand in hand. Neither requiring much commitment.
In the Gospels Jesus speaks difficult words on family. When his mother and brothers come for him, he says, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers? Whoever does the will of God is my mother and brothers” (Mt 12:46-50). Earlier he says that if we love parents or family more than him, “you are not worthy” (10:34-39). More extremely, to follow him you must “hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters” (Lk 14:25-27)!
Jesus does not really want me to hate my parents or my children. He demonstrates his own love for his mother as he cares for her from the cross (Jn 19:25-27). So what does Jesus mean?
The Jewish faith was not simply religion. It was a race of people, they were the nation of Israel. So when Jesus speaks to the Jews of family, he speaks to all that entails for the children of Abraham. Specifically their nationalism. They considered themselves to be the sole people of God.
Nationalism drove the Jews to devastating ends. They believed their nation was destined to rule the world. If they would revolt against Rome, God would provide. But God did not come to save them in their revolution, instead they were crushed violently by Rome in 70ad.
We are tempted by the same path. To mix our faith with nationalism and believe that America is God’s nation. Yet this path leads to destruction. It was not only physical destruction for the Jews. By missing the Messiah, they also missed the way to be the family of God.
Because Jesus redefined the people of God. No longer bound by physical borders of a promised land. Nor by genetic markers of a certain people. “Whoever does the will of God is my mother and brothers” (and sisters and children). Whoever does the will of God is the family of God.
Our culture is happy to take a Christmas Vacation, a quick visit to the manger. But God is calling us to a Christian Life. Where every part of us is redefined by the will of God. We value America — it brings blessing. But our love and commitment are reserved for God’s Kingdom.
This is the light of Christmas. It does not mean something different to everyone. It is not a self-serving, choose your own adventure, movie trope. It is the way of Jesus. Unbound by borders, we go wherever he goes. We do whatever he does. We love whomever he loves. So that all the world may become God’s family, His kingdom!