FILM

Coming Attractions - Week 3: In Need of Joy
Elijah Davidson

Traditional Readings

Cycle A (2016)
Isaiah 35:1-10, 
Psalm 146:5-10
James 5:7-10
Matthew 11:2-11

Cycle B (2014)
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Psalm 126
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28

Cycle C (2015)
Zephaniah 3:14-20
Isaiah 12:2-6
Philippians 4:4-7
Luke 3:7-8

Theological Reflection

Week three of Advent is all about joy, both the jumping around, ridiculously happy kind of joy and the deeply embedded, no-trial-no-matter-how-terrible-can-uproot-it kind of joy. The Biblical passages we read this week in both Testaments were written in contexts where happiness isn’t natural. The prophets, psalmists, and apostles are writing to people experiencing famine, slavery, occupation, imprisonment, and persecution. When the writers encourage their readers to “Rejoice!” they are truly encouraging them, because they need encouragement. Their situations are dire. They need to be buoyed.

The prophets, psalmists, and apostles are giving their readers perspective. They are reminding them of the source of their hope—Christ—and what Christ’s coming means for the world. The lame will walk. Those unjustly imprisoned will be set free. The hungry will be filled. The poor will be made rich. The blind will see. The dead will rise again. Our hope is not simply for a new ruler to arrive. Our hope is for all things to be made right. There will be dancing and singing and feasting. There will be joy, because all that is disheartening will be undone. We are offered joy now and told to rejoice now because that “undoing of death” has already begun and will be completed soon.

Since this week focuses on joy, we chose a comedy to support this Advent week’s focus. The original context of our film for this week is important as well. Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights was released in 1931, two years into the Great Depression. The film is mostly about characters who are destitute. It was made for people who were destitute. City Lights, like its protagonist, brings joy to people in sore need of it. We hope that as you watch it, you will laugh. Whatever stresses you are facing this holiday season, we hope City Lights lightens the load for an hour and a half or so.

As you watch, notice the plight of most of the characters. Almost everyone is struggling to get by. Almost everyone is in need. The rich man whom the Little Tramp befriends is not struggling financially. The city officials who are frustrated to discover the Little Tramp sleeping on their statue aren’t struggling financially either. But everyone else is, and the Little Tramp takes whatever he can get from the well-to-do to help those who are in need. He’s like a homeless Robin Hood who takes pride from the wealthy and turns it into joy for the poor.

His primary concern is, of course, for the blind girl. The Little Tramp goes to great lengths to provide for her. An auditory misunderstanding—which is humorously ironic given that City Lights is a silent film, so we can see what the blind girl can’t, and she can hear what we can’t—causes her to mistake the Little Tramp for a wealthy man. His continued presence in her life gives her hope, and he goes to extraordinary lengths to take care of her. The Little Tramp’s love for the blind girl is one of the most steadfast loves ever filmed. He loves her unconditionally.

It’s good that his love for her is unconditional, because she’s no saint. She is selfish, arrogant, and greedy. In City Lights, poverty doesn’t create moral virtue. The poorest of the poor is just as spiritually needy as the richest of the rich. The Little Tramp is the exception. He is a source of patient, unconditional love. We often identify characters who sacrifice their lives for others as "Christ figures" in stories. The Little Tramp doesn’t die, but he is more Christ-like than any of the characters we most often point to as Christ figures. He has more to teach us about what it means to be Christ-like than any self-sacrificing superhero. The Little Tramp loves the blind girl regardless of her faults, and in the end, she is transformed by his unconditional love. The final act of City Lights is among the most genuinely touching and joy-inspiring ever filmed.

We hope City Lights inspires joy in you. Identify with the blind girl. You may not be blind or as economically needy, but you might be as arrogant and as spiritually needy as she is. You’re certainly a sinner. We all are. We all need the original Little Tramp, Jesus, to come. Pray we recognize him when he does. Rejoice that he is coming soon to make all things right.

After you watch the movie, talk amongst yourselves about the film. Laugh together. Maybe take turns trying to walk like the Little Tramp. We’ve provided a few discussion prompts below if you need them.

Discussion Questions

1) Who is the saddest person in this film? What makes him or her so sad? What does the Little Tramp do to help that person? Why does he fall in love with the blind girl? What all does he do for her to love her? Why doesn't she recognize his efforts? Is it because she's physically blind, or is there another reason? Why don't we recognize God's efforts to bring joy into our lives? What makes us blind?

2) What makes this film funny? Does its humor seem more wholesome than humor in many movies today? Is it more joyful? What is joy? What brings you joy? How do you find it when you lose it? Is joy mere happiness? Is happiness a small thing? What kind of joy does Christ bring us? When has joy sustained you?

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