This unit in my high school religion course we’ve been studying New Church concepts of hell. Christmas break starts tomorrow, and I figured I’d give the students a break for the last few days of class and show a movie. Naturally, to keep it on topic, I Googled “christmas movie devil,” and discovered the incredible Santa Claus, a 1959 Mexican movie in which Santa Claus does battle with Pitch, a demon hell-bent on ruining Christmas for the world. It’s as amazing as it sounds. Mystery Science Theatre 3000 riffed on it in 1993; I decided to show the original film rather than the MST3K version for the class so that they can provide their own commentary.
It’s admittedly a little (OK, a lot) incongruous to have jolly old St. Nick face to face with a devil. But despite its silliness and campiness and low production values, I appreciate that the movie includes a nod toward the darker side of Christmas.
Because when it comes down to it, Christmas really is about a battle between the forces of good and the forces of evil. It’s about an infant whose birth shook the principalities and powers, who disturbed the political powers and yes, the powers of hell. It’s about Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted because they are no more. It is more than jollity and family togetherness – it is staring directly into the darkness and saying, “We will rejoice anyway, because Christ the Lord has been born.”
We need the whole of Christmas, because the superficial version does not fit with what life is really like. Two weeks ago we took our 2-year-old daughter to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to have two moles from her head. Most likely they will turn out to be nothing. There’s a slight chance they could be melanoma. I had Hodgkin’s lymphoma at 25; my wife has neuroendocrine cancer, and has probably had it since she was a teenager. Kids learn early on that there is suffering and pain and anger and disappointment – even at Christmastime. The whole story of Christmas acknowledges this. There is evil in the world. There is darkness.
But there is also light. When we’re driving at night and our kids tell us they’re afraid of the dark, we tell them to look for the lights. At this season, it’s magical; the darkness becomes a backdrop for a thousand colorful stars on every house and tree.
This is the message of Christmas. Not that the darkness is gone, not that if we’re together with our families everything will be happy and good. It is rather that somehow, even amidst unspeakable evil, there is a light that the darkness cannot comprehend. God has come in the flesh. We can know Him. We can love Him. He has rescued us from hell, and he can rescue each one of us from hell even now. And I’m grateful every time I’m reminded of that message – even if it’s only obliquely by a cheesy movie from the fifties.
(Image is from DVD artwork found at Amazon.com)