To listen to today’s 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.
When Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer first aired on NBC on December 6, 1964, it seemed to check all the right boxes.
The hour-long show featured Arthur Rankin, Jr.’s “Animagic” process – stop motion animation that produces the jerky, seemingly three-dimensional movements of the cartoon characters. It would become the trademark “look” of all the Rankin/Bass productions, including other Christmas specials such as The Little Drummer Boy.
It was based on a wildly popular song. Gene Autry, the Singing Cowboy, had debuted “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” back in 1949. The movie provided a back story to Rudolph’s life, addressing such burning questions as, “How did Rudolph get his shining red nose?” and “Why did all the other reindeer use to laugh and call him names?”
The storyline introduced fun new characters, including Rudolph’s love interest, Clarice; Hermey, the elf who wants to be a dentist instead of a toymaker; Yukon Cornelius, the tireless gold prospector; and the terrifying Abominable Snow Monster.
The movie had a compelling message: Even if you’re different, you still have a place. Rudolph and Hermey, who are social outcasts, flee the North Pole in search of a friendlier place to live. Their travels take them to the Island of Misfit Toys, where a winged lion named King Moonracer gathers unwanted, not-quite-right toys who dream of belonging one day to a child who will love them.
The misfits include a train whose caboose has square wheels, a water pistol that shoots jelly, and an elephant with spots. Here’s a closer look: Rudolph The Rednosed Reindeer – The Island of Misfit Toys – YouTube. Rudolph promises he will tell Santa about their plight so they can be delivered to deserving homes on Christmas.
And of course there’s the feel-good ending. Rudolph, Hermey, and Yukon Cornelius rescue Clarice and her family from the Abominable, then defeat the Snow Monster (who’s not nearly so imposing after the elf pulls his teeth) and return home as heroes. Everyone apologizes. When fog threatens to scrub Santa’s annual global flight, Rudolph with his nose so bright saves Christmas.
The movie was a smash hit. It did indeed check all the boxes.
Except for one.
In the final scene, Santa shouts, “Ho, ho, ho, merry Christmas!” and the sleigh flies off into the night. The credits roll. But wait: Did Santa somehow forget to visit the Island of Misfit Toys? Isn’t there any hope for the beleaguered characters the audience met just 30 minutes earlier?
NBC was inundated with thousands of letters, many from children. Couldn’t the ending be changed?
Rankin and his team did just that. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer now closes with Santa stopping at the island and welcoming the misfits onto his sleigh.
A major mystery was finally resolved in 2007 when Rankin addressed the status of Dolly for Sue, a rag doll who lives on the island but appears to be entirely normal. Why does she qualify as a misfit? Rankin told an NPR interviewer that Dolly for Sue was “clinically depressed” after being rejected by the little girl who had owned her. This will no doubt prompt some of us to re-evaluate our childhood toy relationships.
What about the not-quite-right people in our own families that we’ll encounter once again during the holidays? If they ever establish an Island of Misfit Relatives, most of us would need only a few minutes to nominate some candidates for residency.
But let’s face it. That’s where all of us live.
For years I tended to label some of the high-maintenance people in my life as EGRs. They are Extra Grace Required people. But then it began to dawn on me that those very same people were labeling me as Extra Grace Required.
And so I am. As one of Jesus’ misfit disciples, I need all the grace he can possibly provide.
How can we genuinely love the EGRs with whom we will be spending time in the days ahead?
If such love has to originate in our own hearts, we’re all sunk. But God generously supplies love to those who ask him for a fresh supply. “God, I need your help to love, really love, those whom I find difficult to be around.” God answers that prayer by putting his own love into our hearts.
And as a special bonus he will remind us of this truth:
We’re all EGRs. But we’re God’s EGRs.
And he will never leave us stranded on an island without a chance to experience firsthand the wonders of his own grace and love.