By Mahtab Luong
I know this is a hotly contested issue, but I’m of the firm belief that holidays shouldn’t mix. I’m sure those of you who have already begun celebrating Christmas will have some words for me. However, the Luong household is staying strong ’til November 27th. My one exception to this holiday mixing rule starts and ends with the movie The Nightmare Before Christmas. As a child, I grew up watching Nightmare Before Christmas the week of Halloween and we watched it well into December. This year, on the week before Halloween, my stepson and I sat to watch Nightmare Before Christmas for the first time together (and for the first time ever for Greyson). As I sit and do the math now, it’s a safe bet to say I’ve seen this movie over 100 times. This is why it’s entertaining to me that I spent most of that night with literal tears quietly streaming down my face while watching it again this year. Maybe it’s because of how this year has turned out, or maybe it’s because I’m a softie with a lot of tears to spare. We’ll never know. Either way, it’s affected me so much that a month later I’m still stuck on this and that’s what I’m writing about today.
Now, if you’re reading this and you’ve never seen the movie, allow me to quickly catch you up. The movie is essentially about a skeleton named Jack who is the King of Halloween. He finds himself unsatisfied with life and ends up stumbling into another dimension, called Christmas Town. He’s awed by how different it is and then attempts to combine Halloween with Christmas. Essentially he creates mass chaos as the Halloween characters all hijack Christmas and almost ruin the whole thing. Of course, as all good Disney movies do, this one ends happily. Jack comes to his senses, and Santa saves the day. All is right in the world.
There is a scene towards the beginning of the movie called “Jack’s Lament” where Jack sings a soliloquy. He’s just finished throwing the best Halloween holiday in history, and the entire town is singing his praises. Instead of reveling in it, he slips away from the party and begins to sing a poem about his discontentment with life. I think most of us have found ourselves where Jack finds himself at some point in our lives. We’ve accomplished something, but it feels meaningless? We seem to have it all, and yet we feel so empty? From the outside, no one could guess something is wrong, but something is very wrong. I think we can all resonate with that in some way. Especially in a year like this one, where most of us have had to come face to face with great adversity, and many of the aspects of life we were used to have dissipated. Is what we’re left with enough to sustain us? Are we content now that what was keeping us content has disappeared?
I’m willing to bet that like Jack, the majority of us are longing for something we don’t currently have, and the lack of it has caused a resounding emptiness.
In the movie, Jack has his big solo and sings,
“I, Jack, the Pumpkin King
have grown so tired of the same old thing.
Oh, there’s an empty place in my bones
That calls out for something unknown
The fame and praise come year after year
Does nothing for these empty tears.”
While these lyrics are lost on 4-year-old Greyson, they aren’t lost on me. In my experience, when there’s a sense of emptiness that fills my life, it tends to cut deep into the bones. No amount of retail therapy, friends, family or even ice cream and movie nights will make it go away. It creates a longing in you for a solution, and often we look for that solution in the wrong places. In Nightmare Before Christmas, Jack finds what he’s looking for in Christmas town.
I don’t think Tim Burton made this movie with the intent of connecting these thoughts, but to me it’s a beautiful metaphor that Jack finds the “longing that he’s never known” in the holiday that celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. When watching this movie last month I didn’t cry when Jack was singing because I resonated with the lyrics, I cried when his song ended, because as it does, he begins to fall into the magic of Christmas Town. I cried as I remembered what it was like when I first met Jesus. God himself who had come to earth not just to bring justice but to bring salvation that I didn’t have to earn or work for. I cried because I had the same awe that Jack has seeing the hope and the joy in Christmas town. I remember the empty place in my bones before I knew Jesus, and I remember how nothing else could wipe away those “empty tears” until I began a relationship with him.
We’re about to be blasted with the phrase “the hope found in Christmas” for the next month of our lives and it’s easy to skip past it. Jesus came as a baby so He could be with us. In His infancy, we also see His humanity. In His humanity, we find accessible hope. Hope to follow in His footsteps as a man. Hope for a future on earth that is full of meaning and peace. Hope for Heaven after this life, which restores all that’s been broken and lost. It is in this hope we find the only thing that can fill that longing we all face.
In the movie when Jack discovers Christmas town, everything feels new to him and there’s meaning in his life again. Whether we meet Jesus for the first time, or on a day to day basis as we go about our lives, this meaningful hope is regenerated in us once again. As we tether our lives to His, that hope permeates us and changes us from the inside out. As we prepare our hearts for the remainder of this year, I pray we find the answer to our longing in the hope found in Jesus, and in Jesus alone.