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December 8, 2019 | Romans 15:4-13

The words from this Scripture passage that compel me the most are 15:5-7 (please reread these).  Paul expresses his wish for God to grant the Romans the ability to approach one another with the mindset with which Jesus approached his contemporaries. That mindset is one of gentleness, compassion, understanding, and, as Paul emphasizes, acceptance. Acceptance seems to me an extraordinarily important aim. But as I see it, acceptance is often a challenge, because it requires relinquishing a (possibly very tight) grasp on our ideas of how we want things or people or even ourselves to be. Acceptance as letting go of expectations seems slightly impossible to me, but maybe a feasible form of acceptance means allowing expectations to exist while not allowing them to ruin our connections with the world at large, with others, with ourselves.
Let’s engage in some comparative literature. Buddy the Elf (you may be familiar with him from the American Christmas film canon!) arrives to New York City with a lot of expectations: that NYC will be equally magical as, if not more magical than, the winter wonderland he calls home; that his father, Walter Hobbs, will be a wonderful man who loves him unconditionally; that a shop advertising its coffee as the best in the world really will serve a cup of coffee objectively superior to all other cups of coffee in the world. Frankly, none of these expectations are met. Yet what makes Buddy so lovable is that he doesn’t allow those expectations to totally spoil his efforts at connection with others (and enjoyment of the world). Two exceptions are the brawl at the coffee shop and the instance when Buddy snarls, “You sit on a throne of lies!” to the Santa impostor, but some of the most moving and beautiful parts of Elf are when Buddy turns an ordinary department store into a wonderland of its own (dancing on pianos, etc.!) and, most importantly, when we see Buddy persisting in his love for his father despite Walter Hobbs’s considerable naughtiness. In the same vein, more of the most smiley moments in the movie come when Buddy’s stepmother, half-brother, and romantic interest accept Buddy in all his bizarreness in spite of their expectations of what a stepson or brother or boyfriend should look like. We find that Buddy’s acceptance of the people around him combines with their acceptance of him to create a powerful glue that binds them all to each other and to the Christmas spirit in general. The motif of singing in Elf (with Will Ferrell’s bad voice front and center!) marks the coming together of diverse, flawed people (good singers, bad singers all included) to “spread Christmas cheer.”
Buddy is as far from the North Pole as we are from Eden, but as he can accept NYC and the people he meets there, we can accept where we are and the people we meet here. As Susan and Michael accept a newly discovered family member in spite of his enormous eccentricities, we can accept a family member, a friend, a professor, or ourselves despite their or our own imperfections or misdeeds or annoying idiosyncrasies. Doing so allows us to sing aloud “so that with one mind and one voice [we] may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

“Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”

Caroline Armstrong, ’20