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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.

Even in some of the most celebrated “holiday movies,” Christmas is a comparatively minor theme that sneaks in through the side door.
Elf is different.  In director Jon Favreau’s 2003 instant classic, it’s Christmas all the way.  Whereas Miracle on 34th Street and Prancer tease audiences concerning the possible existence of Santa Claus, Elf is all-in when it comes to both fantasy and reality. 
In several regards, the movie turns out to be a kind of Christmas miracle.  It tells a funny, poignant, and inspiring story that all ages can appreciate.  It’s miraculous that Will Ferrell – a comedian famous for going right to the edge of good taste, and sometimes beyond – wins the hearts of children as Buddy the elf.  The role was originally offered to both Jim Carrey and Saturday Night Live cast member Chris Farley, and there’s no assurance they could have generated the same sense of sweetness and innocence as Farrell.   
Elf achieved spectacular worldwide commercial success.  It’s sometimes broadcast on cable TV in mid-summer.  Not many other Christmas movies can say that. 
Buddy is an orphan who is accidentally taken as a baby to the North Pole, where he is raised (and subsequently trained) by Santa’s elves.  When he learns that his biological father – played by the late James Caan – lives and works in New York City, Buddy travels south in hopes of receiving love and acceptance from his human family.  Predictable mayhem ensues, and Caan is predisposed to stay as far away as possible from this eccentric oddball who dresses every day in his green and yellow elf outfit. 
But Buddy’s childlike spontaneity and sense of wonder gradually win the day.  For him, Santa is not a fairy tale but a lived reality.  He is overjoyed to hear that the Jolly Old Elf is coming to Gimbel’s department store.  When he finds out that “Santa” is an imposter, however – and a cynical one at that – he initiates a riot.  Here’s the scene:  Elf (2003) – You Sit on a Throne of Lies Scene | Movieclips – YouTube
Favreau was definitely hoping Elf would become a worthy addition to Christmas filmography.  But he also had a second hope.
The director yearned for Buddy to help save New York City.
Filming began 15 months after the 9-11 World Trade Center attacks.  In the minds of many, America’s largest city was no longer the intersection of manic busyness, exuberant entertainment, and architectural beauty.  Now it was a target for terrorists.  Favreau, a native New Yorker, “wanted to make something escapist and hopeful for kids from New York.”  Therefore Buddy experiences the charm of the Rockefeller Center ice skating rink, store windows burgeoning with toys, and the elegance of the Empire State Building.
On the last day of filming, Favreau and his crew turned Farrell loose on the streets, dressed in his movie get-up.  The comedian, who grew up in the world of improv, spontaneously invented funny situations while the cameras were rolling.  Some of them appear in the movie. 
What stands out above all is Buddy’s innocence.  He’s a grown man with the heart of a child. 
Followers of Jesus have to wrestle with an interesting question that arises on the pages of the New Testament:
Is God calling us to be children or grown-ups? 
Jesus famously tells his disciples that unless they become like little children, they will never enter the kingdom of God (Matthew 18:3).  But some of the Bible’s authors are quick to point out that it’s time to put childish habits and perspectives behind us (Ephesians 4:14).  How exactly does this work? 
The apostle Paul strikes a balance in I Corinthians 14:20: “Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children.  In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults.”  Jesus calls us to trust our heavenly Father the way a child trusts a caring parent.  But we are not to be naïve about the fact that we live in a world that is committed to squeezing us into its own God-rejecting mold. 
It may sound strange, but one of the reasons we are beckoned to live with a child’s sense of joy and trust is that God’s own heart overflows with such qualities. 
Early in the 20th century, British author G.K. Chesterton made these observations in his book Orthodoxy:
“The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they specially enjoy… Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged.  They always say, ‘Do it again:’ and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead.  For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony.
“But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony.  It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon.  It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them.
“It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”
What does that mean for us this Christmas week?
We can’t display the elf-like magic that is part and parcel of Buddy’s life.  None of us has been trained to repair Santa’s sleigh in the middle of Central Park. 
But it’s well within our power to walk into situations with Buddy’s confidence that life is inherently wonderful, and worth all the hope and energy we can bring to every moment.
And it’s just possible that you already own a green and yellow sweater that will remind you of that every time you step into your closet.