Movies are most powerful when they jump off the screen and into our lives-or when they invite us out of our seats and into the story. Christmas movies have a special ability to connect with us because the message and values of Christmas are usually central to the conflict, drama, or plot.

Here are ways Christmas movies can lead us to helpful reflection and genuine soul-searching about ourselves, those we love, and the world around us. Perhaps it's a good idea to watch these before making New Year's resolutions next week!

Grow a Less Grinchy Heart
The Grinch in "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" was unable to receive love, so he had none to give. Eventually, though, the Grinch's heart grew and he opened himself up to love-and roast beast. Cartoonist Kin Hubbard once said, "Next to a circus, there ain't nothing that packs up and tears out faster than the Christmas spirit." How can I be the kind of person who carries the Christmas spirit well beyond Christmas? How can I, like the Grinch, grow a bigger heart? If my tank is empty, perhaps it's because I've still got the cap on and nothing-or no one-can get in. Create Miracles on Your Street
The 1947 classic "Miracle on 34th Street"-and its remakes-breathes life and hope into anyone who struggles to have faith in anything...or anyone. The genius of this classic was that it took extraordinary action, commitment, and sacrifice by several characters to overcome the negativity of the system, the store, and the court to produce the faith-affirming denouement. In the new year, how can my faith result in actions that produces miracles in my home, my neighborhood, my community, my country? Reach Out to Those Home Alone
Jimmy Cannon once said, "Christmas is a holiday that persecutes the lonely, the frayed, and the rejected." It's not supposed to be that way. In the 1990 movie "Home Alone," Macauley Caulkin's Kevin was alone temporarily due to a comedic family oversight. The beauty of the movie was how he got beyond his fears to share stories with the feared old man across the street. Whether I'm alone or not, what lonely people can I reach out to? If I'm reaching out to someone, I'm not alone. And when reaching out is uncomfortable, how can I have the spiritual reserves to follow through?

Realize Yours Is a Wonderful Life
The morality tale of Bedford Falls weighs in on several levels. After the singing and the angel who gets his wings, George is still not financially secure like his brother or rich friend. He still hasn't traveled to see the world. Mr. Potter is still on the Board of the Building & Loan, and still holds the mortgage on most of the town. And George still has a full-time job that nobody wants. All he has is the love and adoration of his wife and children, and the richness of friends. In my life, can I see that such love is enough-really enough-for me?

Love the Scrooges in Your Life
We've all probably got at least one Ebenezer Scrooge in our lives, if not more. Our boss. Our neighbor. A family member. The redemption of "A Christmas Carol" isn't simply that Mr. Scrooge is transformed, but that a crippled boy with no material blessings turns out to be the primary change agent, at least in the human sphere. We can pray for God to send transforming visions of clarity to those around us, but our positive attitude and selfless love is the human instrument God uses to soften hearts. How can my words, deeds, and attitude send a smile as well as the timeless message, "God Bless Us, Everyone"? Give Gifts of Time, Not Just Treasure
In 1996's "Jingle All the Way," Arnold Schwarzenegger embarks on every father's nightmare: he's promised his son a gift that's been sold out for weeks, and lied to his wife by saying he already had it. In the end, he secures the Turbo Man action figure--but discovers what his son really wanted all along: a relationship with his dad, the real action hero in his life. And as that relationship is restored to its rightful place, the contented son can give the coveted turbo-man action figure away. As nice as gifts and presents are, am I giving the gift that my family and close friends really want and need: time? Have Yourself an Imperfect Christmas
National Lampoon's "Christmas Vacation" pokes fun at the mishaps in a harried family's holiday celebration. In a performance-driven, high-efficiency world, it's good to be reminded that no one is perfect and that love is not conditioned on perfection. Can I learn to laugh at my flaws, rather than press for the ideal holiday? Look to Linus
The 1965 TV classic "A Charlie Brown Christmas" broke all the rules when Linus recited the Nativity story from the Gospel of Luke. Here was a Christmas cartoon in which the Christmas story was actually told. Have I read the story lately or shared it with those I love? Everyone has a favorite Christmas movie or cartoon, From "Babes in Toyland" to "The Bells of St. Mary's"; "Christmas in Connecticut" to "Christmas in South Park"; "The Bishop's Wife" to "The Preacher's Wife"; "The Night Before Christmas" to "Surviving Christmas"; "Mickey's Christmas" to "A Garfield Christmas"; "Santa Claus" to "The Santa Clause"; "Scrooge" to "Scrooged." Even "Die Hard II" and "Fitzwilly" (a morality tale worth finding) count, because significant wrongs are righted on Christmas Eve.

Whatever our preferences, we can move past asking "did I like it?" and ask instead, "how does it speak to my life spiritually?" Perhaps it will lead me to a time of reading or prayer that helps me become the kind of person I long to be, the kind of person movies get made about. Not just a character, but a person of character.

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