One of my favorite Christmas movies is Elf[i], starring Will Farrell. Buddy the Elf isn’t really an elf. He’s a human who accidentally stowed away in Santa’s sack as a baby, and was raised at the North Pole with elf children. Because of his human size, he doesn’t fit in with the other elves. When he learns that he is human, he journeys to find his father, Walter Hobbs, who is a children’s book publisher in New York City. Hobbs wants nothing to do with his son Buddy, whose only desire is a relationship with his dad. Much of the movie is spent in Buddy’s efforts to please his father, and trying to get the grumpy man to show a little Christmas spirit. While Buddy has lots of Christmas cheer that he carries with him from the North Pole—there’s one thing that he lacks: self esteem (or, I should say, “elf esteem”). He needs to know that he is loved, and that he is wanted by his father. This elf-fulfillment is the subject of Buddy’s search.
God knows that we can only have self-fulfillment and self-esteem when we are in relationship with our Heavenly Father. Some spend their whole lives, searching like Buddy the Elf, to find the One who made us. In Deuteronomy 4, Moses tells the people about just such a search. He encourages them to follow all the commands of God, and specifically warns them against idolatry. If they do follow other gods, Moses warns, they will be scattered among the nations. Verses 26-28[ii] say:
26 “Today I call on heaven and earth as witnesses against you. If you break my covenant, you will quickly disappear from the land you are crossing the Jordan to occupy. You will live there only a short time; then you will be utterly destroyed. 27 For the Lord will scatter you among the nations, where only a few of you will survive.28 There, in a foreign land, you will worship idols made from wood and stone—gods that neither see nor hear nor eat nor smell.
God knows that we were made for a relationship with Him, and not to chase after anything else. When we are scattered, nothing seems to fit in our lives. Buddy realizes that something isn’t right when he can’t fit into the elf-sized bed of his childhood, or when he had to squeeze into an elf-sized school desk. In the same way, when you’re scattered, nothing seems to fit right. Have you ever been through a time when you felt like your spirit was scattered, your soul destroyed, and nothing seemed to fit? Maybe it’s time you sought the Father.
After a time away, God knows that His children will want to come back. When we do, God is ready to restore that broken relationship. In verses 29-31, Moses says:
29 But from there you will search again for the Lord your God. And if you search for him with all your heart and soul, you will find him.30 “In the distant future, when you are suffering all these things, you will finally return to the Lord your God and listen to what he tells you. 31 For the Lord your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon you or destroy you or forget the solemn covenant he made with your ancestors.
Just as Buddy finds his dad, so too will every one of God’s children find Him when they diligently search. But this is where the analogy ends. In contrast to God, Walter Hobbs is a dishonest curmudgeon who would rather pay him to disappear than deal with him and restore the relationship. Still, at the end of the movie, all things are made right. If a bad dad can learn to embrace his son, and a weird son can find his father, how much more can God receive back His children who return to Him! In Matthew 7:11, Jesus says, “…If you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.” When God sees that you’re living at the North Pole, or as far from Him as you can possibly get—when God sees that you are scattered—God wants one thing: to reach out and draw you back to His arms of love.
How did Buddy gain a relationship with his dad? Not by following him around the office, watching him do things Buddy could never understand. Neither can we get close to God by pondering theology and going through the practice of religious ritual. When Buddy can’t grasp the father, he reaches out to Walter’s son, Buddy’s own half-brother. Eventually, when Buddy runs away, it is young Michael who bursts into his dad’s office to intercede for Buddy and ask for Dad’s help. In the same way, it is Jesus who mediates between God and runaway humanity. Sometimes we, like the people of Israel, can be cotton-headed ninny mugginses. We can stow away in Satan’s sack and allow ourselves to be carried off to who-knows-where. But it is the Holy Spirit who guides our journey back to the Father. And it is Jesus who puts our broken lives back together.