A Strange Man from Another World
By Davy Ellison
Elf—The Christmas Tradition
My wife and I kick Christmas off on a Saturday late in November when we put up the tree, decorate the house, collapse on the sofa (with mince pies or Christmas cake), and watch Elf. The 2003 film Elf has become something of a Christmas Cult Classic—and given my annual viewing I must admit that I’m a fan!
The film follows the comedic antics of Buddy the Elf—a human raised by elves—as he heads back to New York to find his birth father. On his return to New York, it is immediately obvious he’s a strange man from another world. There’s no one else on the streets of New York dressed like him: yellow tights and a green tunic. He’s always happy, waving at someone trying to wave down a taxi, congratulating a grubby looking cafe because they have a sign that says, ‘World’s Best Cup of Coffee’, and laughing far too enthusiastically at getting his shoes shined. He’s a bit weird, a bit different.
This produces a variety of reactions from those he encounters. Some ignore him. Some get angry with him. Some are simply bewildered. His birth father thinks he is a deranged stranger and so organises a DNA test before becoming involved with this strange man from another world. It’s positive. He brings him home to his wife, Emily, and son, Michael. Emily immediately has pity for Buddy, while Michael initially shows disdain.
But Buddy wins people over. They begin to love him. And the winsome influence Buddy has on people begins to change their attitudes and behaviours. Most importantly, for the film, he plays a pivotal role in causing everyone to believe in Santa again. In this way, by coming to New York to find his father, Buddy the elf ends up rescuing Christmas. It’s the classic cliché Christmas film ending and yet it never gets old.
Incarnation—The Christmas Truth
Elf reflects the incarnation.
As we read the nativity narratives in Scripture, we quickly realise that Jesus is a strange man from another world. This is evident in the fact that Mary gave birth to him even though she was a virgin (Luke 1:34). This was the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 1:18). But the strangeness of this baby Jesus is perhaps best described in the introduction to John’s Gospel: he is God in the flesh (1:1–5, 14).
As we read beyond the nativity narratives Jesus continues to stand out. Instead of following Mary and Joseph home after celebrating the Passover, the boy Jesus remains in the Temple to question the religious leaders of the day (Luke 2:41–52). Instead of following in Joseph’s footsteps in the family business, he declares himself the Servant foretold in Isaiah (Luke 4:17–21). He’s different, he stands out.
Jesus is a strange man from another world and that meant he elicited a variety of reactions. Jewish shepherds praise God for this baby born in the small town of Bethlehem (Luke 2:20). Affluent men from a far-away land travel for many days just to see this strange child that has been born (Matt. 2:1). Herod sought to kill him (Matt. 2:16).
But it’s here that the similarities end. Buddy changes everyone’s opinion to a positive opinion, Jesus divides opinion down the middle. From birth some people love him and some hate him. There’s no winning everyone over, and this should not surprise us considering how Jesus talks about his message and mission on earth: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34).
Jesus’s arrival does not merely change behaviour—he changes hearts. He has come to give us new hearts. Jesus did not come to rescue Christmas—like Buddy the elf—he came to rescue his people from their sin (Matt. 1:21). This strange man from another world, born of a virgin, by the power of the Holy Spirit, acted differently, provoked a variety of reactions, split public opinion down the middle, and transformed hearts as he rescued his people!
Just as the people of New York needed someone from outside to come and rescue them, so too this world needs one from outside to come and rescue us. In the incarnation that’s what happens. God the Son takes on flesh to save our souls.
This Christmas I encourage you to enjoy Elf and revel in this strange man from the North Pole that rescued Christmas. But please don’t stop there. Make your brain work a little harder and remember what Christmas is about: the incarnation. Jesus Christ left heaven, entered history, took on flesh, was born of a woman, walked on earth, died on a cross, rose from the grave, and did it all to rescue us from our sin.
Truly we can now sing: Joy to the world, the Lord has come!