Can Watching "Elf" Really Help Me Be A Better Missionary?
Christmas is once again upon us and that means one thing; Elf better be in my Netflix queue! It is the only movie I know of that gets funnier the more I watch it. But this summer I was thinking a lot about evangelization on campus and I had a revelation: Buddy the Elf is the perfect example of a missionary!
For those who don’t know the movie or need a refresher, Elf is the story of a young baby who accidently gets taken by Santa to the North Pole, there he is raised as any other elf, until one day it is revealed to him that he is actually a human. After this life-changing shock, Buddy then decides to go to New York in order to build a relationship with his father, who he learns is on the Naughty List. The rest of the story is a comical trip of a full grown man who thinks he’s an elf, and eventually saves Christmas.
Now you might be thinking, “Zach, there ain’t no way you can convince me the Elf is anything more than a cheesy Christmas movie.” But there is so much that we can learn from Buddy! This is something I feel I could write an entire essay on, but for your sake, I’ll keep it brief.
In the movie, Buddy is taught from a young age that there are three rules every elf must learn: treat every day like Christmas, there’s room for everyone on the nice list, and the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear. Buddy lets these rules guide his entire life.
Similarly, there are three rules that every missionary must know: divine intimacy, authentic friendship, and vison for spiritual multiplication. Now Buddy the elf is not a missionary, but he does live from these three rules in his efforts to spread the Christmas spirit. The way Buddy shares Christmas with others is a great example of how we can do the same for Jesus Christ. I’m not crazy. See for yourself:
Buddy loves Christmas more than probably any human that has ever existed because he spent all of his life in a close, intimate relationship with the big man himself, Santa Claus. Buddy learned at the feet of the master, and if he wasn’t learning from Santa directly, he was learning from Papa Elf, Santa’s most faithful servant. It’s this relationship that spurs Buddy on in everything he does. When Buddy is thrown into the crass, unbelieving world of New York, he isn’t fazed but instead wants everyone to know the joy he’s experienced. Evangelization must flow from this a wellspring of joy within the heart.
Just like Buddy stayed close to Santa, we have to stay close to God. It is only when we are close to God that we can be an effective missionaries. He must be our source. God, our Father, our Dad, helps us to see people the same way he does and to love people with the same unconditional love he has. Daily prayer, reading the Bible, participating in the Sacraments, these are the ways that God reaches out to us from heaven and changes our hearts so we may imitate him. When I begin to love people as my Dad loves them, how could I not want to share the Gospel with them?
Buddy seeks to be friends with all those he meets, whether it’s his new family, a little girl in the doctor’s waiting office, or the man he shares “syrup” with in the mailroom. He wants everybody to have a friend. Rather than keeping his head down and moving with the rest of the world, Buddy looks to those around him. He engages with Carolyn in the doctor’s office and finds out what she wants for Christmas. He looks to his coworker in the mailroom and listens to his story. While exploring New York, he stops in a coffee shop just to congratulate them for their coffee.
Like Buddy, I can be pretty awkward. But I know that every single person I meet on campus deserves a friend. I may not be able to be the person to do that for all of them, but being a missionary means encountering them in daily moments. Christ’s joy always trumps my own awkwardness.
Vision of Spiritual Multiplication
Though Buddy brings joy to all those around him and wants to be their friends, there are really only two people he deeply invests in: Michael, his brother, and Jovie, his girlfriend. He pours into these two, teaching them about the Christmas spirit and showing them what it means to be people who are truly happy.
At the climax of the movie, Santa’s sleigh crashes. It runs on Christmas spirit, something New York was greatly lacking in. And though Buddy was the one who had been spreading the Christmas spirit with those he encountered, it was the two people he had been investing in who got an entire crowd of people outside of Central Park to start singing Christmas carols. This is ultimately what gave Santa’s sleigh enough spirit to fly again.
We might just be one missionary on a college campus. We can’t reach everyone. Instead we can pour into a few people, walking with them daily, and model for them a life of discipleship with Christ. These few can do the same for others. In this way, we create enough zeal for the Gospel to make and a lasting hope for others.
The Gospel is so much greater than a generic “Christmas spirit.” In fact, the real Christmas spirit is one of evangelization. This thing has happened that we have been waiting for all our lives! God has become man! He’s here! He’s one of us! I can know him! And now I need to tell the world! God has given us Himself, the greatest gift any person could ever receive. Shouldn’t we be at least as joyful, at least as dedicated as Buddy?