(The weekly GPS Small Group Guide can be downloaded in .PDF format from the individual sermon page, found at http://www.cor.org/worship in Sermon Archives)
Hope: Miracle on 34th Street
A Grow-Pray-Study guide for small groups
This guide uses the Scripture readings from the daily “GPS” study guide. Group members may read the daily readings before the group meeting, or read the verses aloud when the group meets. The group may subdivide into two or three smaller groups, each discussing a set of the daily readings and the matching questions on page 2, or the entire group may discuss those questions together. We pray that, whatever pattern of study you choose, the Holy Spirit will weave God’s Word into the life and heart of each group member.
Sometimes we’re tempted to think of people in Jesus’ day as naïve, credulous folks who’d believe any wild story anyone wanted to tell them. The writer to the Hebrews, at the start of the well-known “faith” chapter, made it plain that he had wrestled with the issues of faith and doubt. Verses 1 and 3 described the unseen quality of what we believe in. And verse 6, rather than trying to “prove” God, said believing in God is a faith decision.
Isaiah gave Israel a beautiful prophetic vision. He spoke of a future in which light pierced the world’s darkness, in which peace was so deep-seated that people could burn all the warriors’ garments soaked in blood, in which hope, justice and righteousness reign. All of this (verse 6) because “A child is born to us, a son is given to us.” It was a lovely promise. The question, then and now, is: does it really make sense to believe something so hopeful and intangible?
As one of perhaps 18,000 priests and Levites, Zechariah knew that being chosen by lot for Temple service was an honor he’d likely have just once. But Gabriel, God’s messenger, brought him a promise, much harder to believe, of a far greater event in which he, his wife Elizabeth (and the son they thought they’d never have) would play a key role.
To both Zechariah and Mary, God’s messenger promised the birth of a baby, despite the fact that the biological facts ruled pregnancy out (Elizabeth was too old, Mary was a virgin). Like Zechariah, Mary struggled to believe the angel’s words—but she did. Doris Walker in Miracle on 34th Street came to see that “Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to.” Mary did that, too, knowing we serve a God who sometimes does very uncommon things.
Miracle on 34th Street includes this exclamation: “I believe…It’s silly, but I believe.” What an amazing “I believe” atmosphere must have enveloped Elizabeth and her young relative Mary as they met and compared notes about their unexpected pregnancies! Elizabeth summed it all up, saying, “Happy is she who believed that the Lord would fulfill the promises he made to her” (verse 45).
And then there was Joseph, who quite possibly got the news of his fiancée Mary’s pregnancy during her visit to Elizabeth (see Pastor Hamilton’s book The Journey: Walking the Road to Bethlehem). The fact was painful at first; the story she told was unbelievable. He was going, sensibly, “to call off their engagement quietly.” But he didn’t, because he believed a message in a dream. In Miracle on 34th Street, Susan Walker said she believed in Kris Kringle because “He looks like every picture of Santa Claus I’ve ever seen.” Joseph didn’t leave a record of his thoughts, but we can wonder if he trusted his dream because it “looked like” so many Biblical pictures of the kind of thing God would do.
To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.
Lord Jesus, we set aside the voices in the world and in our heads that call you impossible and we ask you to be our Lord and the guide of our lives. Thank you for keeping the promises you have made to us, especially those that seem so impossible. Shine your light on the darker recesses of our lives and help us to bring joy to those around us, especially during this Advent season. Amen.
CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)
Does all the hoopla and commercialism immediately after Thanksgiving bother you, or do you enjoy the Christmas preparations, despite the commercialism? What do you like and dislike about this?
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY
Read Hebrews 11:1-6. How would you define “faith”? Why do you have faith when others don’t? Have others ever challenged your faith? Have you ever been belittled because you believe? In Miracle on 34th Street, Kris Kringle said, “If you can’t accept anything on faith, then you’re doomed for a life dominated by doubt.” What do you think this means? How can we “see” beyond our five senses to God’s unseen realities?
Read Isaiah 9:2-7. What are these verses speaking of? Why would Isaiah have offered this to the ancient Hebrew people? Does it make sense that they would have believed something so hopeful and intangible? Fred Gailey, in Miracle on 34th Street, told the sternly “realistic” Doris, “Those lovely intangibles…are the only things that are worthwhile.” Can you even imagine life without “lovely intangibles” like hope, beauty, purpose, delight, compassion or love? To what extent do you agree with Fred’s sweeping statement that they are “the only things that are worthwhile”? Why does the Bible so often link God with the idea of light?
Read Luke 1:5-20. Zechariah couldn’t quite believe this incredible prophecy, even though an angel of God was delivering it. Sometimes, things seem just too incredible, childish and foolish to believe. Have you ever been tempted to see faith as childish and foolish? What people of faith have you known who were anything but childish and foolish? How would you describe these people? How does their faith give us faith? Gabriel said to Zechariah, “Do not be afraid.” This Advent, in what part(s) of life do you most need to take in God’s message: “Do not be afraid”?
Read Luke 1:26-38. Do you believe that “nothing is impossible with God”? Do you believe that miracles can still occur, or are miracles a thing of the past? Once the “end of time” is upon us do you think that that great, overt miracles will be observed like they were in New Testament times? Will faith increase in such times? Why or why not? What kinds of impossibilities might people be wrestling with today that should be trustingly left in God’s hands?
Read Luke 1:39-45. Do you think that we, like Elizabeth and Mary, are blessed simply because we “believe”? Before Jesus was even born, Elizabeth was the first person recorded as calling him “Lord”. What does this term, “Lord” mean or imply to you? What effect(s) has your acceptance of Jesus as “Lord” had on your life? What did Mary and Elizabeth gain by meeting together while both were pregnant? Do you or have you ever met with someone in similar circumstances and felt strengthened by the meeting? Who was most supportive, you or them, and which one of you gained the most?
Read Matthew 1:18-25. This tells us that Joseph chose to believe what he had heard in his dream, but how much of the impact of the impending event do you think he really grasped? Joseph and Mary waited expectantly for the birth of the Christ child, just as we, during Advent, expectantly await the celebration of his birth. Why is this season important to you and to your family? During Advent, how can we nurture an ever-stronger faith?
From last week: Did you pause to give thanks every day? Did you take the time to make a written list of your blessings then add to the list each day? Did you pray daily, giving sincere thanks to God for each item and ask for his continued blessings upon you, your family and all those who are in need? Please tell the group what this process meant to you.
FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT
From Pastor Adam Hamilton’s sermon, November 31, 2013:
Today we’ll ponder the meaning of Christmas with the help of the 1947 film Miracle on 34th Street, a film which won five Academy awards. We’ll divide up today’s message into three acts:
Act I: A Loss of Faith
The Miracle on 34th Street story begins at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade of 1947. Doris Walker is divorced, a single mom whose husband left her when her daughter was quite small. Doris, played by Maureen O’Hara, works at Macy’s and is responsible for hiring the year’s Santa for the parade and the giant Macy’s store on 34th Street in New York (which remains, to this day, the largest retail store in the world).
While Doris hires and supervises the Santa at Macy’s, she not a fan of Santa Claus.…For Doris, Santa is a myth that, like all others, must be debunked. But one gets the impression very quickly that Doris’ rejection of Santa Claus is deeper than mere “common sense.” The rejection and abandonment she felt when her husband left her and her daughter has left her jaded. She’s lost faith in what she considers the “silly things” in life—not just Santa, but we sense this also includes things like faith, and hope, romance and love. For Doris whatever doesn’t fit her definition of common sense or realism or what is logical is to be rejected….
When you come to the Christmas story and all you have is logic you may be prone to dismiss it as a silly legend or myth to be set aside by rational people. Your logic and common sense will say, “A child born of a virgin? Impossible!” “God visiting our world as a baby? Preposterous!” In this case Christmas becomes merely a fight on Thanksgiving night in a Wal-mart as you seek to get your piece of a Black Friday deal. But when you experience and know here (in the heart) that God is, that there is more to our lives, and to the universe, than chemical reactions and what our eyes can see, we begin to find the deeper meaning of life. But let’s dig deeper into Miracle on 34th Street:
Act II: Meet Kris Kringle
Let’s meet Kris Kringle….Kris despises the commercialism of Christmas. Kris not only refuses to recommend toys a child doesn’t want, but if Macy’s doesn’t have a toy a child wants, he tells the parents what competitor of Macy’s carries the toy. To Mr. Macy’s shock, this approach of putting the customer first, far from hurting business, actually leads to customer loyalty and more profit. Kris transforms retail in New York, and soon not only Macy’s, but Gimbals and others are choosing to put the customer first.
But very quickly Doris learns that Kris actually believes he is Santa Claus. She grows concerned and insists that Kris be examined by the Macy’s psychologist. Only a someone mentally ill would claim to be Saint Nicholas in the flesh….Kris ends up in the psychiatric ward of Bellevue hospital awaiting a trial to determine if he is mentally ill because he claimed to be Santa. Fred is the attorney who takes up Kris’ case….
To Doris, Fred has given up his job on an “idealistic binge.” I love Fred’s response: “Look Doris, someday you’re going to find out that your way of facing this realistic world just doesn’t work. When you do, don’t overlook those lovely intangibles. You’ll discover they are the only things that are worthwhile.” I wonder if you’ve figured this out yet. For Fred, and I would suggest for all of us, it is the intangibles, the things like faith, hope and love, that ultimately matter most to us as human beings.
Fred’s comment, “Faith is believing in things when common sense tells you not to,” reminds me of that famous passage in Hebrews 11: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Let’s bring this to a close by looking at the question of who, really, is Kris Kringle:
Act III: Who Really is Kris Kringle?
The climax of the film takes place in the New York State Supreme Court where the judge will determine whether Kris Kringle might, in any meaningful sense, actually be Santa Claus, or whether he’s delusional and should be institutionalized….
Santa Claus, as you no doubt remember, is a contraction of Saint Nicholas, the fourth century bishop of Myra in modern day Turkey….Centuries later, Martin Luther the great Protestant reformer, noting that St. Nicholas in his compassion was simply representing Christ, de-emphasized St. Nick in favor of the German Christkindl—what in English became Kris Kringle. Christkindl simply means Christ Child. Kris Kringle, as with Saint Nicholas, was one who represented the Christ Child through tangible demonstrations of compassion and love.
The story of Christmas is the story of God, coming to us in human flesh, through a virgin named Mary, born in stable, in poverty. It is a story that says that there is a God who has come to bring the light of his love into this world, to change us, save us, deliver us, redeem us, and give us hope. I can’t prove the story. I accept it and the testimony of those who knew Christ. And my life is changed because of it. In believing in Christmas, as Christ-followers, we, like Saint Nicholas, like Kris Kringle represent the Christ Child and bring his light and love to the world.
Miracle on 34th Street
Miracle on 34th Street (in the United Kingdom first released as The Big Heart) is a 1947 Christmas film written and directed by George Seaton and based on a story by Valentine Davies. It stars Maureen O’Hara, John Payne, Natalie Wood and Edmund Gwenn. The story takes place between Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day in New York City, and focuses on the impact of a department store Santa Claus who claims to be the real Santa. The film has become a perennial Christmas favorite.
The film won Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Edmund Gwenn), Best Writing, Original Story (Valentine Davies) and Best Writing, Screenplay. It was also nominated for Best Picture, losing to Gentleman’s Agreement. Davies also penned a short novella version of the tale, which was published simultaneously with the film’s release. Miracle on 34th Street was remade twice: once for TV in 1973, and a second time for a 1994 theatrical release, with Richard Attenborough as Kris Kringle.
The story: Edmund Gwenn plays Kris Kringle, a bearded old gent who is the living image of Santa Claus. Serving as a last-minute replacement for the drunken Santa who was to have led Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, Kringle is offered a job as a Macy’s toy-department Santa. Supervisor Maureen O’Hara soon begins having second thoughts about hiring Kris: it’s bad enough that he is laboring under the delusion that he’s the genuine Saint Nick; but when he begins advising customers to shop elsewhere for toys that they can’t find at Macy’s, he’s gone too far! Amazingly, Mr. Macy (Harry Antrim) considers Kris’ shopping tips to be an excellent customer-service “gimmick,” and insists that the old fellow keep his job. A resident of a Long Island retirement home, Kris agrees to take a room with lawyer John Payne during the Christmas season. It happens that Payne is sweet on O’HARA, and Kris subliminally hopes he can bring the two together. Kris is also desirous of winning over the divorced O’HARA’s little daughter Natalie Wood, who in her few years on earth has lost a lot of the Christmas spirit. Complications ensue when Porter Hall, Macy’s nasty in-house psychologist, arranges to have Kris locked up in Bellevue as a lunatic. Payne represents Kris at his sanity hearing, rocking the New York judicial system to its foundations by endeavoring to prove in court that Kris is, indeed, the real Santa Claus! We won’t tell you how he does it: suffice to say that there’s a joyous ending for Payne and O’HARA, as well as a wonderful faith-affirming denouement for little Natalie Wood. 72-year-old Edmund Gwenn won an Oscar for his portrayal of the “jolly old elf” Kringle; the rest of the cast is populated by such never-fail pros as Gene Lockhart (as the beleaguered sanity-hearing judge), William Frawley (as a crafty political boss), and an unbilled Thelma Ritter and Jack Albertson.
This week, honor the beginning of the Advent season by committing to some form of community service in Christ’s name. Next week, share with the group what you experienced and how it affected your Christmas preparations.