“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” ~ Charles Dickens
“A Christmas Story” (1983) is arguably one of America’s most popular Yuletide movies alongside “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946), “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947), and “Home Alone” (1990). Set sometime in the early 1940’s starring Peter Billinsgley as Ralphie, the little boy who dreamed of getting a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle with a compass in the stock for Christmas, the movie effectively blends nostalgia, humor, Americana, family dysfunction, and the hopefulness of children into a film we want to see year after year. Everyone has their favorite scenes, of course, from Flick’s tongue stuck to the frozen flagpole (a secret suction tube was used to create that effect), to the look on Ralphie’s face coming down the stairs in pink bunny pajamas on Christmas morning.
One little-known fact about the movie is that MGM had little faith the modestly budgeted film would succeed at all. They released it to less than 900 screens for its first run. It grossed a modest $2m for its first weekend, and, though not bad for the time, the company hadn’t planned further distribution. The movie disappeared altogether until it was literally tossed into a 50-movie package deal to meet a quota and sold to Warner Bros three years later. These were the early years of cable television and the new network, TNT, ran the film in a 12-hour marathon as a stunt in 1988. The rest is American Christmas movie history. Today, over 40 million viewers tune in at some point during the marathon (now on TBS) to laugh and remember why this movie has become such a rich part of the fabric of our Christmas tradition.
Obviously, the long-running success of this movie is that it not only makes us laugh, it actually taps into our hearts on a deep level, disarming us with its humor and the grown-up voice of Ralphie narrating throughout. It hits us like this because we all have Christmas wishes and dreams, even if they’re buried under a mountain of disappointments and tragedies. That childlike faith that something miraculous is happening as we wake Christmas morning may be faint, but its still there somewhere deep inside, if we could only unearth it from the now “grown up” place we live. Ralphie’s antics aside, we all have our version of the Red Ryder Carbine. Whether its a happy marriage, a successful business or ministry, or a wayward child come home, the miracle of Christmas is its enduring story of hope.
The power of the Christmas story, the real one, is that it is the story of Ultimate Hope disguised in the form of a baby named Jesus. The angels sang, filling the heavens with the glorious news. Star-struck shepherds gathered in simple awe and wonder, and curious kings from foreign lands made their way to worship Him. The atmosphere was charged with something unexpected, though long awaited; something absent from the earth far too long, now as close as a manger. Hope. Suddenly realizing its unbearable thirst, the world welcomed Hope from far beyond itself—the Hope of Heaven. Now all who hear this story, His story, can have this Hope live eternally within them.
The reason the real Christmas story never gets old is the same reason watching “A Christmas Story” never gets old: it holds out our ultimate hope, though perhaps in imperceptible, indirect ways. Ralphie’s wide-eyed anticipation of a BB gun for Christmas is, in its base form, that same anticipation of ultimate redemption, salvation, peace, and even heaven in symbolic form, as is every story that anticipates the protagonist’s rescue after a long, hardy battle. This is the human story, in its essence—the Genesis fall, the desert wanderings, the prophecies of a Savior, and Bethlehem—and you can spot it in everything from The Wizard of Oz (1939), to The Matrix (1999), to Toy Story (1995), to Finding Nemo (2003).
Raphie’s story is our story—we dream of and long for our ultimate Christmas present, Jesus, and what it will mean to be with Him forever someday. Though we’ve received Him in our hearts now by faith, we will one day see Him in the flesh when our faith is made sight. The coming of the Baby of Bethlehem 2,000 years ago is but the promise of the “once and future” King’s physical return when the Risen Lord splits the skies in glory to reign forever, for real. Every story somehow tells that story, even if it doesn’t mean to, or doesn’t seem to, or doesn’t want to. The human story is inextricably bound with the Christ story on every level. He is Creator, Savior, and soon Coming King. All story points to Him, if only we look.
Telling the Christmas story never gets old because it is God’s story of Hope come down, Love made man, and Peace personified in Christ Jesus. He is Emmanuel, God with us. I always think of John 1:14, as translated in The Message,
“The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish.”
Jesus’ move into our neighborhood meant Hope had come to stay. When we hear His story, even for the 800th time, it stirs the heart like nothing else and whispers to us of the joys to come. So, this year as you binge-watch “A Christmas Story,” and laugh at the old man in mortal combat with the cellar furnace, remember the real Christmas story again and feel Hope well up inside you. It’s the story always told and the story that never gets old.
John Chisum is a long-time Christian music business professional, ordained minister, songwriter, publisher, and worship leader. He is the former Director of Song Development and Copyright for Integrity Media, and the former Vice-president of Publishing for Star Song Communications. John has managed dozens of professional Christian songwriters such as Paul Baloche, Lynn DeShazo, Gary Sadler, and many others, and has had over 400 of his own songs recorded. Along with his business career, John is an internationally respected worship leader and has traveled over one-million miles in ministry worldwide, while constantly serving in local churches over the last 30 years. He holds a Masters of Arts in Worship Studies from Liberty University. John and his wife, Donna, have been married for 36 years and live in the Nashville area.
John is currently Managing Partner for Nashville Christian Songwriters. You can reach him at john@