I’ll be the first to admit – I am not a film expert. In fact, throughout our entire relationship - six years of dating and marriage - my wife Jenn and I have seen less than five movies together at a theatre. At home, we’re not much better when it comes to committing to and finishing an entire film. We both appreciate great stories, but perhaps you could say we’re more of the television show couple.
However, as I say this, there is one movie we seek out each year as cable networks air classic re-runs leading up to Christmas. And that is Elf.
Since it hit theatres in 2003, Elf earned itself the title of an instant classic. In that time, more than a decade, I still have not met a single person who does not love this quirky fantasy. It seems everyone shares the same connection with the story. But what is it about Will Ferrell playing the character of a North Pole elf named Buddy, who takes a journey to New York City to save Christmas, that captivates and connects with so many people?
What is it about Will Ferrell playing the character of a North Pole elf named Buddy, who takes a journey to New York City to save Christmas, that captivates and connects with so many people?
I contend this movie shows us the redemptive power of child-like joy, wonder, and purity in a 21st-century American family. It’s a hope we need right now as a society – and certainly as Christians. Elf shows the principles of our faith still has miraculous power in a world seemingly overwhelmed by the speed and recklessness of our own human advances. Today, we live in a period of 24-hour news cycles, unprecedented reach, influence and infiltration of media of all kinds. In fact, the leaps of technology in the last generation alone have far outpaced all previous generations – and continue to accelerate at an incomprehensible pace.
As Andy Crouch says in his bestseller The Tech-Wise Family, “I do know this: if we don’t learn to put technology, in all of its forms, in its proper place, we will miss out on many of the best parts of life in a family.”
So insert a story about a naïve elf. See, in Buddy’s life, he knows of nothing but joy and his calling in life – which is to make toys for children each year in time for Christmas morning. Eventually, he learns he is not, in fact, an elf, and must seek out his biological father while assimilating into a culture wholly foreign to him.
On that mission, Buddy discovers not only is the world outside of the North Pole foreign, but he finds that his father is not necessarily the person he envisioned. Walter is a cynical and jaded book publisher. He is someone who in the midst of the Christmas season, walks through life with a heart that is cold. Walter is consumed by his work, and in the process, neglects his wife and youngest son.
The story is driven by the process of Buddy desperately trying to reconcile his new world, redeem his family and save Christmas.
Go and Do Likewise
So what do we see in Buddy that we can emulate as Christians? In addition to the child-like joy that he possesses, we see someone who imitates a posture in life to which Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, calls all Christians.
In November, we welcomed our first child into our family. Over the last four months, we have been navigating the new world of parenthood together – with a keen focus on how we want to raise and shape our family in the image of Christ.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul eloquently, and pointedly gives us a clear example of a life marked by Christ’s perfect love. He also provided clear instructions for confronting a world that looks dark by continually shining as lights. He charges the Philippians to imitate Christ’s humility, continually work out their salvation and “to do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.” – Philippians 2:14
We all feel the pull to confront secular society with frustration or ‘grumbling.’ It’s easy to do. Yet, here, Paul makes it clear. In fact, he doesn’t say do ‘most things’ or ‘some things’ without complaining. He begs for consistency in all things.
Today, Jenn and I have put a few practices in place that we hope point us continually in the direction of these principles. And as our daughter grows up – it’s these practices that we hope shape her foundation.
We pray daily together as a family. Once in the morning before we confront our day and once after we return home. Not only is this an act of obedience in our faith, but we find it connects our hearts with God. It also instills a consistent sense of humility and gratitude for His work in our life.
Perhaps one of the most impactful decisions we have made as a couple, and now as a family is to intentionally surround ourselves with a community that is rich in wisdom. Since moving to Dallas, and joining Legacy Church, we have been members of two life groups. Each has been a multi-generational group, and both times we have been the youngest couple in the group. This has made a tremendous impact and been a priceless blessing in our lives.
We aim to serve consistently with Legacy Church. Jenn is a member of the connect team, and I serve with the communications and technology team in Worship Service.
Together, these principles work in unison to continually work out our salvation, sanctify us as a family unit, and ultimately mold us towards more Christ-like lives. We want to be a family marked by joy, faith, and an eternal worldview.
Meanwhile, I can’t help but recognize these are many of the characteristics that marked Buddy the Elf.
No, Buddy wasn’t Jesus. He didn’t save the world. But he unmistakably embodied the same principles Paul preached to Philippi to restore his own family.
In reflection, it brings me hope that even today, a story marked by radical gentleness, joy, gratitude and pursuit of forgiveness and love continues to be something that captures the heart of our society.
As Christians – armed with the ultimate redemptive message of the Gospel – this should be our mission. One family at a time.
Britton Drown, along with his wife Jenn and daughter, has been a part of the Legacy family for the past 3 years. They are thankful for this group of believers and the joy they find in raising their precious family within the Legacy community.