We watched Mr. Krueger’s Christmas a few nights ago. It’s not half bad.
I spotted two things worth mentioning. First, Jimmy Stewart, even in his dotage, can act. I mentally edited him and his expressions and intonations out of the film for a little bit and just listened to the lines. I winced. But with him they were magic.
Second, Mr. Krueger’s encounter with the Christ Child is a punch. For some reason I’d forgotten about it, and since the film doesn’t really broadcast it in advance, I found myself suddenly pulled forward in my seat. Changed from enjoyment to the Burkean sublime. I did clench up a little at the end of the encounter, when Mr. Krueger broke down crying and fell on his knees. Jimmy Stewart makes it all too real; you feel its just not right to gawk at him falling to pieces like he is. I wanted to do the decent thing and turn away. But I was deeply moved.
Then, the doorbell rings or someone knocks or something and Mr. Krueger, right under the gaze of the camera, visibly snaps out of it, just as he has from all his other daydreams. The clear message is that seeing the infant Jesus was all just Mr. Krueger’s fancy.
I was outraged. It makes me snarl right now just remembering it. The scene demands–the film demands–that, unlike all Mr. Krueger’s other imaginings, this one be potentially real. The scene changes him. It changes the film. The Christ Child is a presence.
Mr. Krueger’s previous dreams are clearly his own. Like all daydreams, they’re wish fulfillment. Mr. Krueger sees himself sleigh riding, buying well-cut suits, conducting the tabernacle choir, having good friends. But then Mr. Krueger finds himself in the manger. He is as surprised as we are, because the vision of the little Christ did not come from him. It came from outside. It is an intrusion, though of a particularly wonderful kind.
For as long as I can remember, my deep desire has been to look on the face of the Christ. I don’t think I can explain it, but there it is. For that reasons Christmas is always bittersweet for me. As much as I love the season, I want badly to have been one of those shepherds or wisemen, but I wasn’t. I wish I’d been Simeon, but I wasn’t. I could’ve cried like Simeon did, taking the Infant Jesus in my arms:
Lord, now lettest thou they servant depart in peace, according to thy word.
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation
Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people,
A light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of the people Israel.
But I hold my tongue. I have not even as much seen the Star.
Another Christmas Eve is here. Like most New Mexicans, me and mine will put out candles to light the way for the little Jesus to find his way to the world. We’ll put them in paper bags so the wind doesn’t gutter the candles out, and we’ll dig dirt into the bags so the wind doesn’t knock the bags over. In the more remote locations of New Mexico, in the mountains, the old people will build bonfires for Him too. I’ve never seen it and I doubt I ever will. It’s not the sort of thing that it would be right to be a tourist to. They’re meant for Someone else to see as he comes from the heavens.
He won’t come, of course, or rather he has already. We were born too late. But He will see them. He will know us for his own. He will not forget us. On more than one future day–and tonight too, this very Christmas Eve–He will intrude into and overwhelm our lives. We will in a moment find ourselves on our knees before the manger, weeping, shaking, and singing. He will have been born again, and we too.
Scrooge was wrong. We cannot keep Christmas in our hearts all year round, as hard as we may try. The things we want most are not in our power to give ourselves. But Christmas does not come just once a year. His birth is unlooked for and eternal.
I wish a Merry Christmas to you and yours. I wish you peace and joy. I wish you a Star and a Tree and a Child.