'Tis the season for familiar stories: the grinch who stole Christmas, the banker from Bedford Falls who truly did have a wonderful life, and the bespectacled boy named Ralphie who longed for a BB gun on Christmas morning.
I can't remember the last time I watched A Christmas Story from beginning to end in one sitting, but when it plays in marathon on Christmas Eve, I love to start watching in the middle for some of the best scenes. The time that Ralphie's little brother has on so many layers he can't put his arms down. The Chinese restaurant's servers serenading Ralphie's family with "Deck the Halls." The declaration of "Ohhhhh..... fuuuuuuddddggggeee." And of course, that infamous, hideous, lovable leg lamp and the father who cherishes it as a "prize."
Add to those scenes the one that makes us cringe-laugh. During recess, the school boys triple dog dare Ralphie's friend, Flick, to stick his tongue to a pole. He hesitantly complies--and proves just how cold it is outside.
The onlookers are amused, then shocked, then scared-so scared that they run toward the school when the bell rings, leaving Flick stuck to the pole. The last two friends standing with Flick are Ralphie and Schwartz. Ralphie starts to run, but Schwartz stands by his friend.
"Where are you going?" Schwartz asks.
"The bell rang," Ralphie replied.
Schwartz looks helplessly at his tongue-tied friend. "But what are we gonna do?!"
An exasperated Ralphie throws his hands in the air. "I don't know! The bell rang!"
Thankfully, we know this is not the end of the story. Flick is eventually set free from his predicament, and we can deem the scene "funny."
When we think of bells ringing at Christmas time, our minds don't usually go to school bells. We think of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poetry about the dependability of the bells' timeless message. We remember the ding-a-ling signaling that an angel has garnered wings. We hum the tune to "Carol of the Bells."
Perhaps Ralphie's school bell has a Christmas lesson for us, too.
The bell meant that recess had ended. It also conveniently offered an excuse for the boys to leave their friend behind. After all, by going inside when the bell rang, weren't they obeying the rules?
For some of us, Christmas ends on December 25. The bells chiming from the local church on Christmas day signal the end of a time we had enjoyed and anticipated. We want to go back to business as usual as soon as possible.
Yet by rushing from Christmas to New Year's back into our routine, are we also running in fear from the needs that Christmas presents to us every year?
Charitable giving increases dramatically in the month of December. One reason is that it's the end of the calendar year, when people take a look at their income for the year and give as able. Another reason is the spirit of giving that naturally rises from the generous gift of God in Jesus Christ. Whatever our motivation, we witness and experience the desire to meet needs.
But then January rolls around, the bell of reality rings, and we leave Flick's needs in the cold and falling snow.
The book of Titus doesn't appear much in our lectionary, but we can always count on this little letter appearing on Christmas Day. Writing many years after the birth of the baby in Bethlehem, Paul concludes with the type of people we must be for today: eager to do good action.
Many of us are already planning New Year's resolutions, and I would venture to guess that all of them involve an eagerness to do good for ourselves, our families, our communities, and our God. Perhaps the best place to start is not in some lofty goal for the future but rather in meeting the needs still right in front of us.
Provide monthly meals to families in need, instead of annually at Christmas.
Sign up for online giving at your local church so that you might tithe more regularly.
Find out the birthdays of the "angels" you adopted from an Angel Tree, and surprise them with gifts on those special days.
May the bells of Christmas not send us running back to routine but rather hold us in the places where we most need to be: helping Flick get un-stuck.
all good things, and a blessed Christmas SEASON to each of you,