Sunday, December 4, 2016

"The Island of Misfit Toys"

The 1964 classic movie Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,[i] is all about misfits. Rudolph has a very shiny nose, and gets tormented by all of the other reindeer for being different. His friend Hermey the elf prefers dentistry over toymaking, and suffers harassment by the other elves for not fitting in. Together they flee the North Pole’s persecution, in search of a place more tolerant of their differences. Along the way, they stumble on the Island of Misfit Toys, where they meet a nesting-doll clown with a wind-up mouse at the center, a choo-choo with square wheels, a squirt gun that shoots jelly, a spotted elephant, and a cowboy who rides an ostrich. These toys dream of finding homes where they can be loved and accepted. According to the mis-identified Charlie-in-the-box, “Every night, King Moonracer searches the entire earth. When he finds a misfit toy, one that no little girl or boy loves, he brings it here to live on this island til someone wants it.” In the movie (spoiler alert) every single misfit finds his or her place. And, as for the rest of the story, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer went down in history.

The reason we love that song and that movie is that most of us at some point have felt like a misfit. Maybe your nose didn’t glow, but your ears were too big or your hair too red. Maybe you had a learning disability or a hard-to-pronounce last name. It could be that, like me, you had a Christian childhood and non-Christian kids picked on you. Maybe you were unathletic or you wore glasses or braces on your teeth. Or maybe your parents didn’t make enough money and you didn’t wear the right clothes. The truth is that most kids feel like misfits sometimes. That’s why we love the story of Rudolph. We like to believe that one day every misfit will find a safe place.

If you’ve ever felt like a misfit, then you’re in good company. 1 Peter 2:7[ii] calls Jesus, “The stone that the builders rejected.” Isaiah 53:2b-3 says, “There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him. He was despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care.” Jesus Himself was a misfit. Yet, 1 Peter 2:7b says, “The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.” God is in the business of making something out of nothing—of taking misfits and lifting them up. God doesn’t exclude them—God understands how they feel. He offers a way for them.

To those whose hearts cry out for salvation, Jesus offers a promise better than an Island of Misfit Toys. In John 14:1-3, Jesus says, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.” Like Moonracer, every day Jesus searches the entire earth and gives a home to all who will trust in Him. Then, God gives you a glorious identity. Instead of being a misfit, God says, “…You are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light. Once you had no identity as a people; now you are God’s people. Once you received no mercy; now you have received God’s mercy (1 Peter 2:9b-10).” Through the gift of Christ’s love, God has a glorious plan for you. You may once have felt like a misfit, but in Christ, you have a place with God.

The problem is that many who have found their place in Christ, or their place in society, have forgotten what it felt like to be a misfit. Perhaps they never felt like a misfit at all, because you were born into a place of privilege. Instead of being harassed like Rudolph, too many white, middle-class, Christian, Americans find themselves more closely resembling “all of the other reindeer.” You know, the ones who laughed and called him names because of his red nose. Or assaulted him for his skin color. Or didn’t let him play any reindeer games because didn’t speak English. Or despised and discriminated against him for his gender identity. Or told him to go back to his nation of origin. Or feared him because of his different religion. If that’s you—then Jesus has one message for you: “Don’t be all of the other reindeer! Be something better!”

We live in a nation that is too divided already, and we don’t need privileged Christians making it worse by behaving badly. The church is in enough decline as it is. In Matthew 25:40b, Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” In that scripture, Jesus is very clear that God’s harsh judgment falls not on those who are different from you, but on you who treat others as though they were different. Jesus says that God is in them, too. Therefore, there are no misfit toys. There are only God’s children. Again, 1 Peter 2:9 says, “You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God.” Indeed, you MUST show them the goodness of God. If you were a misfit toy and Jesus gave you a home, then praise the Lord and be thankful! But don’t even think about denying others their place in the blessing. If you do, one might wonder whether you’re a toy worth playing with at all.

[i] Rankin-Bass Productions
[ii] All scriptures taken from the NLT.

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