The Griswold Principle

As it is in many Christian-American households this time of year, “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” is an annual tradition in my home.  Throw my boys and me in a room with nothing but paper and pen and an hour later we’re walking out with the complete script.  As Cousin Eddy might put it, Christmas Vacation is “the gift that keeps on giving the whole year through.”  To which we’d respond, as Clark Griswold does, “That it is, Edward.  That it is.”

My dad used to howl when Clark got trapped in the frigid attic, stepped through the sheetrock and warmed his hands on the air rising through the expensive hole in Rusty’s bedroom ceiling.  My wife relates to Ellen Griswold, the overwhelmed, smiling, cigarette-sneaking hostess who advises her daughter, “It’s Christmas, Honey.  We’re supposed to be miserable.”  My sons love it when Clark gets busted by Rusty for ogling the hot babe at the negligee counter.  And I, being a father, husband and son, can appreciate Clark’s highs and lows, dreams and defeats, fears and frustrations.  For my money, Hollywood’s never scripted a more perfect Christmas verse than Clark’s climactic line, “Hallelujah!  Where’s the Tylenol?”

The surface brilliance of Christmas Vacation is its inclusiveness.  It meets you right where you are, and no matter what you are—grandma, grandpa, aunt, uncle, cousin, kid, parent, boss, nosy neighbor, curious cat, slobbering Rottweiler or innocent squirrel–it’s got something for you.  The deeper appeal of this flick, the genius that eluded me for years, is that it brokers a truce between two common Christmas Jesuses;  Extravagant Jesus and Simple Jesus.

In our heart of hearts, most of us follow a polarized Jesus.  Some of us follow Hippy Jesus and others Prosperity Jesus.  Some of us relate to Punishing Jesus and some of us to Amnesty Jesus.  In December many of us flock to Baby Jesus, the future Savior who’s not yet a man, doesn’t yet have a beard and can’t yet do or say anything to make us nervous.  Whatever your concept, ‘tis the season for Customized Jesus, and most of us choose either the extravagant one or the simple one.

Those who lament the removal of Jesus from this season, who long for a simpler celebration of the virgin birth and the arrival of our Savior, just can’t stomach the idea of spending hours at the mall, straining the budget and striving to pile a mountain of gifts under the tree.   Meanwhile, the shop-til-you drop crowd can’t understand why religious folks don’t just lighten up once a year and go with the flow.  The contrast gets starker every year, and every year since 1989, into this evolving conflict, comes “Christmas Vacation” with a message for all, no matter where we stand on the meaning of Christmas or the true character of Jesus.

On one hand Clark Griswold wants nothing but a “fun, old-fashioned, Griswold family Christmas.”  On the other, he’s sweating bullets because he can’t get his elaborate, gaudy Christmas lights to work and he’s written a huge check that’s going to bounce if his Christmas bonus doesn’t come through in time.  In one scene we see Clark in the attic, weeping nostalgically over 8mm family Christmas films.  In another, he’s so stressed by the threat of a perfect Christmas about to go sour out that he takes a chainsaw to his neighbor’s prized Leyland Cypress in a crazed quest to replace his recently torched Christmas tree.  It’s nuts.

The conflict between sentimentality and materialism finally reaches such feverish pitch that Clark’s entire extended family decides to vacate the premises on Christmas eve, whereupon Clark issues a proclamation from the foyer of his ransacked home: “Oh, no!  Nobody’s going anywhere.  We’re all in this together.  We’re all going to stay right here and have such a fun, old-fashioned family Christmas that they’ll have to pry the bleeping smiles off our bleeping faces.”

Take away the anxiety and insanity and you’ve got a pretty good idea how Jesus himself might’ve handled Christmas 2012.  Would he love up on his family?  Surely (Jn. 13:1 ).  Would he be patient with his irritating relatives?  Of course he would (Lk. 10:40-42).  Would he open his arms to intruders and undesirables?  No doubt (Lk. 14:13).

What about gifts?  Would he overextend his finances?  Of course not (Mt. 6:25-34).  Would he graciously receive gifts?  Absolutely (Mk. 2:19, Jn 12:7,8 Mt. 26:10,11).  Would he be generous?  Yes, especially to kids (Mt. 19:14, Mk. 10:16).

Read the gospels through and through and one thing you’ll never find is a Jesus conflicted between two good things such as gift-giving and church.  While you and I may fret over the best way to do Christmas, Jesus has no such hang ups.  When he was invited to parties, he went.  When there was a celebration, he celebrated. When it was time for worship, he worshiped. Jesus always  finished whatever good he was involved in, then went on to do more good, but he never broke a sweat over how to please everyone.

Jesus ministered to countless people, all of whom were flawed, yet most of his ministry was done without sermonizing.  From this we can reasonably gather that if Jesus were a Christmas guest in our homes, he’d go with the flow rather than browbeating us over incidentals.  And if he were to sermonize, there’s strong evidence that he’d come down on the party poopers rather than the party people (Mt. 9:10-13).

What Christmas Vacation teaches us about Jesus it teaches without book, chapter, verse or even the name of Jesus, further proof that the truth is the truth no matter the address.  Christmas Vacation shows us that the only thing that really matters is relationships.  True, it depicts a wide and sometimes absurd array of ways to go about it, but in the end relationships are all that matter.  Jesus teaches the exact same lesson; relationships are all that matter this year, every year and forever (Jn. 15:11-13, 17:3).  And that’s something upon which Extravagant Jesus and Simple Jesus agree.

In the spirit of relationship-building this year, there’s really only one rule, and it is this:  If your neighbor sees you carrying a tree into your house and hollers, “Hey, where ya gonna put that tree?”, you are not allowed to answer, as Clark does, “Bend over and I’ll show you!”

Get high on him.  Stay high on him even after Christmas.  Peace!

Tommy Libre