Holiday Inn

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To listen to this reflection as a podcast, click here.
Throughout the season of Advent – which this year encompasses the four weeks leading up to December 25 – we’re looking at classic Christmas movies and how they might connect us to the miracle of God choosing to become a human being.

Irving Berlin, one of America’s all-time great songwriters, knew he had written an all-time great song.
Berlin was the inspiration for Holiday Inn, a 1942 film based on the romantic rivalry within a song-and-dance team (Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire) in the setting of a rustic Connecticut nightclub that is open only on holidays. 
Crosby woos the actress Marjorie Reynolds with his easy-going, mellow crooning.  Astaire wows her with his high-octane dancing.  She’s drawn to both.  Which guy will win her lasting devotion?  Crosby prevails in the end, which merely opens the door for Astaire to wind up happily in the arms of someone else. 
The movie’s timeframe, which spans two years and one week, spotlights eight different holidays.  Berlin wrote original songs to celebrate each one, transforming Holiday Inn into a cinematic musical.  But he was certain that it was his Valentine’s Day song, “Be Careful, It’s My Heart,” that would become a smash hit. 
He was wrong. 
Because December 25 comes around three times in the course of the movie, Berlin needed a Christmas song.  He wrote a quiet, unassuming piece called “White Christmas,” not even bothering to give it a prominent setting in the film.  Eighty years later, we recognize it as the most beloved non-religious Christmas song of all time.  It ultimately inspired a movie of the same title in 1954, which we’ll look at more closely next week. 
The movie also inspired an iconic brand in the world of travel.  Kemons Wilson was so unimpressed with the roadside accommodations on a family trip to the East coast that he decided to enter the business himself.  The architect working on Wilson’s first facility in his hometown of Memphis, Tennessee, joked, “You should name it Holiday Inn, after the movie.”  The rest is hotel history. 
Irving Berlin, for all his genius, failed to recognize the superiority of the song that was right in front of him.
The same is true for those in Bible times who were keeping their eyes peeled for the arrival of the Messiah.  Even if they had stayed at a Holiday Inn Express the night before, they didn’t prove to be smart enough or discerning enough to recognize that God would choose to come into the world as a child.
Children were widely regarded as “nothings” in the ancient world. 
The word for “child” in both Greek and Latin means “one who does not speak.”  While it’s the nature of small children to be noisy, no one thought they were worth listening to. 
A child was vulnerable, fragile, and dependent.  Author and pastor John Ortberg observes in his book Who is This Man?, “Those were not qualities associated with heroism in the ancient world.  A hero was someone who made things happen.  A child was someone things happened to.” 
Hercules was different.  According to Greek mythology, baby Hercules, while lying in his baby bed, was attacked by a pair of poisonous snakes.  He strangled them both with his chubby hands.  That was the Greeks’ way of giving dignity to a toddler.  He acted like a grown-up.
But there is no evidence that Jesus was anything but a weak and helpless infant – someone who needed his diaper changed about every two hours.  As if to emphasize this, Matthew, in his account of Jesus’ birth, identifies him as “the child” nine times. 
Incredibly, this implies that God, in order to save the world, was willing to become vulnerable, fragile, and dependent.
Looking ahead, the Hebrew prophets foresaw the Messiah’s unexpected path: “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him… Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem” (Isaiah 53:2,3).
As we read Jesus’ story backwards – knowing how things turned out – it’s tempting to spotlight the few supernatural features in the accounts of his birth, like the appearance of the angels to the shepherds and the remarkable pronouncements of Simeon and Anna in the temple courts. 
But chiefly we come face to face with a child – ordinary, unimpressive, unnoticed.  Yet carrying in his fragile body “the hopes and fears of all the years.” 
Just because your life today feels ordinary and unnoticed doesn’t mean that God isn’t doing a special work in you, too. 
After all, sometimes the song that’s overlooked becomes the one that everyone ends up singing.