Friday, December 15, 2017

Christmas Movie Churches Double Feature: Christmas Child and The Christmas Candle

Christmas Child (2004)

The Christmas Candle (2013)

Christian writer Max Lucado has written over one hundred books (with 80 million copies in print), and two of those books have been made into Christmas films. And both feature church traditions for celebrating Christmas: in one, a Nativity scene and in the other, Advent candles.

Christmas Child was a 2004 direct to DVD release based on Lucado’s short story, “The Christmas Cross.” The film centers on Jack Davenport (William Moses), a big city (Chicago) journalist going through a personal crisis. His marriage is strained, and he has questions about his identity. His adopted father recently passed away, and he wonders about his past. While clearing out his father’s safety deposit box, he finds a photo of a church in Clearwater, Texas, and decides to go to Clearwater to look for secrets of his past. He leaves a few days before Christmas, which does not please his pregnant wife.

In Clearwater, every cliche about small towns abounds, for, of course, big city fellers have so much to learn from rural life. The only motel in town doesn’t take credit cards. (I worked in a podunk motel twenty years before this film was made, and we took credit cards.) There’s one diner where everyone goes. And the local sheriff is a regular Buford Pusser, harassing Davenport for no clear reason. (Except because Jack is a journalist? From the big city? Because the waitress the sheriff likes flirts with Jack?)

Jack does, of course, discovers good old fashioned values in small town life. Jack goes to the church and discovers the picture was taken by the former pastor, the late Reverend Krauss. Everyone in town agrees that Reverend Krauss was a good guy who played a part in Jack’s adoption, and that the secret of the adoption is somehow tied to the nativity scene in front of the church.

Everyone in the town loves the wooden carved figures of Mary, Joseph, and the Baby Jesus. It is a cherished town treasure. There is a mystery tied to the a cross found on the Christ Child’s chest, but I have to say, the figures are (in my humble opinion) awful. I don’t know art (well, I know a little), but I have to say they are hideous figures.

The pastor currently serving the church, Michael Curtis, is a good guy and very good guitar player (he’s played by Christian singer/songwriter, Steven Curtis Chapman). Curtis even bails Jack out of jail when he is incarcerated, apparently for breaking a local ordinance against being a big city journalist. Everything comes together at the big Christmas Eve service at the film’s end. Though a bad film, the church comes off well in the story.

A more interesting film is 2013’s The Christmas Candle, based on Lucado’s novel of the same name. It’s set in 1890 in the small, fictional town of Gladbury, England, where a legend tells that every 25 years, an angel comes to the candleshop and blesses one candle. Whoever lights that candle and prays will have his or her prayers miraculously answered.

When a new pastor, the Rev. David Richmond comes to town, leaving his former position in the Salvation Army (and an earlier post as a well-known preacher), he casts doubt on the local legend. He is a good preacher, but when he questions the truth of the Christmas Candle from the pulpit, he risks losing his congregation.

He encourages people to answer each other’s prayers and needs. He preaches, “Does your neighbor need a miracle? Why not be that miracle?” He inspires people to serve their neighbors, answering many of their prayers -- but some prayers are not answered, and because of that (and an unanswered prayer of his own), the Reverend openly struggles with his faith.

In time, the congregation comes to see that God answers some prayers through their brothers and sisters in Christ. The Reverend, on the other hand, comes to see that God still does miracles as well. (One thing that threatens this church’s Steeple rating is when the Reverend tries to bring electricity to the old chapel and nearly burns the place down. On the other hand, Susan Boyle sings their Christmas anthems).

And the church carries on the tradition of lighting Advent candles during the four weeks before Christmas. It’s one of my favorite traditions.

Keeping with our generous Christmas tradition, we’re giving the churches in both films Four Steeples.

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