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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.
Watching Love Actually is like grabbing a meal at Golden Corral.
It’s a cinematic buffet with something for everyone. There are nine different self-contained storylines, and something like 40 significant characters. You can have a little of this and a little of that, and then move on to the next option.
The nine stories have two things in common. Each of them is about love. And each takes place within a few weeks of Christmas.
British writer-director Richard Curtis stated that his goal was to come up with “nine good beginnings and nine good endings with no dull stuff in between.” Christmas serves as the unofficial day when the many different players – spouses, lovers, parents, siblings, and friends – finally come clean with each other. They finally come to know the truth about where they stand.
For some, it’s the joy of loving and being loved. For others, it’s the agony of having missed out on what may have been the relational chance of a lifetime.
Oh, and one other thing. The stories are interconnected. From time to time they bump into each other. In the final scene, which takes place a month after Christmas, the major players all end up at Heathrow Airport in London, trading hugs in a kind of heavenly reunion on earth.
Love Actually doesn’t pretend to be a spiritual movie. The relationships are messy. Some of them represent love as having no fixed moral boundaries. You may not applaud every story or how it turns out. Curtis himself admitted, “I’m not sure all the stories are from the same universe.”
But the relational smorgasbord, seasoned liberally with humor and pathos, has nevertheless proved charming with adult audiences.
The movie arrived in theaters on November 7, 2003 – the same day Elf was released. Both became global hits, and both appear on numerous lists of the best Christmas films of all time.
One of the nine love stories concerns a British writer named Jamie, played by Colin Firth. Depressed by the state of his life, he retreats to his French cottage. There he meets Aurelia, a Portuguese waitress played by Lucia Moniz. She cannot speak English. He cannot speak Portuguese. Yet they are drawn together.
When Jamie returns to England, he can’t get her out of his mind. He begins to learn Portuguese. Finally, impulsively, he goes back to France to declare his love. First he has to confront Aurelia’s father and sister and try to bridge their mutual linguistic gap. Here’s what happens next: Best Romantic Scenes – Love Actually – YouTube
What in the world is true love? Can we actually know it when we see it?
There are two ways to address such questions. We can look at the relational landscape of our culture and say, “This is the best we can do.” Or we can look instead at God – at what he has done and what he continues to do – and say, “This has to be our starting point.”
As the apostle John reminds us, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as the sacrifice for our sins” (I John 4:10).
Over the centuries, a great many people have been puzzled by God’s love. If he really loves the world, surely he would compel us to enter a relationship with him. He would make his existence and his intentions crystal clear by skywriting them every day.
But God’s love is never coercive. It is always persuasive. One of the striking things about Christmas is how humbly and quietly God comes into the world. He wants to share his love with you and me – yet not, so to speak, by means of a shotgun wedding where we have no choice but to comply.
Almost 200 years ago, the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard tried to express this through a parable about a king who loved a humble maiden. This king was the most powerful of all magistrates. No one could refuse his commands. Yet his heart melted in the presence of a peasant girl.
How could he declare his love for her? If he brought her to the palace and wrapped her in a beautiful robe and crowned her head with jewels, she wouldn’t be able to resist him. He would say, “Would you marry me?” and she would answer, “You wish is my command, your majesty.”
Oh, she might say that she loved him. But how could he ever really be sure? So, scratch the plan about bringing her to the palace.
Maybe he could go to her. He will get into his royal carriage, accompanied by an armed escort and beautifully colored banners, and he will knock on the door of her cottage. But he knows there’s no way her response could possibly be unforced. What he really yearns for is an equal, someone who will love him from her heart.
Being in a fairy tale isn’t always a fairy tale. Will this king ever experience true love?
So he makes a radical choice – a choice he cannot take back. He assumes a new identity. He dresses as a beggar and approaches her cottage humbly, with a worn cloak fluttering loosely about him. This isn’t play-acting, either. The king has stepped down from his throne in order to win the hand of the one he loves.
He reaches to knock at her door. Will she agree to enter this daring relationship with him?
That is the Christmas story.
The true King came into the world incognito – not to blow our minds but to win our hearts.
And that just so happens to be real love, actually.
To listen to this reflection as a podcast, click here.