Thursday, December 15, 2011

Walking Dead Through Advent

I don't always have time to watch much in the way of movies and television during Advent.  But then again, thankfully, I'm not often as sick as I have been this Advent.  Over the past two and a half weeks, I've watched a variety of shows when I've been too tired to move far from the sofa and the tissue box.

As you might expect, we've watched Christmas movies and every Christmas episode of every TV series we ever loved (at least the ones available via streaming).  But we also watched the entire first season of The Walking Dead, a series set in Atlanta after some sort of disease has turned most of the population into zombies and life has become apocalyptic.

Yes, zombies and Advent--not a combination that usually comes to mind when preparing for the season.  And yet, it works.  It's wonderful to watch this series with the words of Isaiah thundering in my head: 

They shall build up the ancient ruins,
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.  (Isaiah 61:  4)

You don't get much more ruined than a city overrun by zombies!

We're seeing zombies everywhere these past few years in popular culture.  What does it mean?  Does it show the deep-seated fear that many of us have about Alzheimer's Disease?  Does it speak to our fears that we're losing our humanity as we become more digitized?  I would argue yes.

In the series, we see the hopes of the survivors--how they yearn for a savior, for some sort of deliverance, for answers.  Since it's an ongoing series, they haven't gotten what they need yet.  They move through the blighted setting, on a quest for redemption.  Again, it feels very Advent to me.

In the midst of zombies, we also watched a more traditional Christmas movie:  Midnight Clear (not to be confused with the WWII movie, A Midnight Clear).  The movie follows a variety of characters through the day and night of Christmas Eve. Along the way we see that no one is living a perfect life, although the diversity of ways that these lives have gone wrong almost stretches my willing suspension of disbelief at times. The movie also presents several characters whose lives haven't gone wrong so much as just not according to plan. I thought it was refreshing to see a conversation between the youth group leader and the pastor, in which the youth group leader expresses his doubt that carolling is worth the effort. The unspoken part of the conversation that hovers below the surface is the possibility that the youth group leader doesn't think that any of the church work that he's doing makes any kind of difference at all.

This movie, too, works beautifully in the Advent season.  We see these characters who long to be sure that their lives aren't worthless.  We see these characters, some in such desperate need of redemption.  We see that redemption delivered via methods we don't expect--a very Advent theme.

In the end, Midnight Clear is a Christmas movie in the best sense of that tradition, with a quiet, gentle insistence that we will not be left alone to our own self-destructive devices.  In our hectic Decembers, we often forget that part of the Christmas story, that glad news, the great tidings of joy.  This movie reminds us of the true message of Christmas, and it manages to do it without sinking into either irredeemable pathos or treacly sentiment.

Don't get me wrong:  I like It's a Wonderful Life as much as the next person.  I say many cheers and prayers of thanks every time A Charlie Brown Christmas airs; how unlikely--and wonderful!-- it is that a nation of largely unchurched viewers will sit still while Linus recites Luke's version of the Christmas story.  But I also love discovering Advent messages in the most unlikely places--I love these unexpected gifts!

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