In the Revised Common Lectionary the Advent readings (like all Biblical readings) are arranged in cycles. Over each three year period the entire Bible is read out loud during Sunday worship. The readings for each cycle are listed below.
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Psalm 25: 1-10
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Week one of Advent is all about awareness. The Old Testament passages in each cycle all confess our sin and need for God and petition God to notice us and save us. The New Testament passages all encourage us to maintain hope and stay alert for Christ’s return.
Seeing our sin, trusting God, maintaining hope, and staying alert all become increasingly difficult as the years go by, and we become inured to the ordinariness of life. Our sins becomes habits. God seems ever more distant. Hope fades into despair. Any hints of Christ’s return get mixed into the messiness of day-to-day life. Before you know it, we’re lost and numb, alive but not really living. We go through life as if we are asleep. Advent is a chance to perk up our ears, open our eyes, and wise up to the signs of Christ’s return springing up all around us.
This week, we’ve selected two films for you to choose from to help prepare you to worship corporately on Sunday morning. Both are appropriate to the theme and emotional thrust of the week, and we couldn’t choose between them. You’ll have to, or just watch both. The two films are Magnolia and Bambi, two films that appear very different on the surface but which are more similar the closer you look.
Both films are structured primarily by their time lines. Bambi takes place over the course of a single year in the life of deer. Magnolia takes place on a single night in the lives of an interconnected group of people. Both films are concerned with relationships between parents and their children. Both films hinge on a single, cataclysmic event that finally brings everyone together. Most importantly for our purposes, both films are about seeing beyond oneself and becoming aware of the wider world.
For the deer and other forest animals in Bambi, awareness is a matter of life and death. The owls, skunks, rabbits, and deer all have big eyes and big ears perfect for staying alert. Bambi has to learn to watch at all times lest he be taken unaware by any of the myriad threats to his and his friends’ lives. He also has to learn to look out for opportunities for love.
In Magnolia almost all the characters are so concerned with their own problems they fail to notice the pain of the people around them. They are all connected narratively and relationally, but they are also all alone. As you watch the film, notice the chances the characters are given to notice each other and the ways they fail to do so.
Notice also Jon Brion’s score in the first half of the film. It spreads over every scene, connecting them but also leaving each scene behind as it rushes forward. Much like Magnolia’s characters are all self-centered and unaware of each other, the score seems all but unconcerned about the characters. When the characters finally begin to wise up, so does the score. It begins responding to the characters as they respond to each other. Furthermore, as Kutter Callaway explains in his book, Scoring Transcendence, the score switches from an inharmonious minor key to a more holistic major tone.
In either film consider how much children need their parents and their fathers especially. Watch what happens when fathers finally show up or when children are finally willing to reach out to their fathers for help. See the need, and see how good it is when the need is fulfilled, when both fathers and children reach out to one another and salvation comes.
After you watch whichever film you decide to watch, talk with each other about how the film made you feel, what it made you think about, and how you’d like to respond. If you’d like a few discussion prompts, we’ve included a few below.
1) Do you ever feel distant from your parents? How do you handle that? Do you ever feel distant from God? How do you handle that? Think of a time when you most needed God to show up. Did God show up? How? Or were you left alone? How did you cope?
2) What part does calamity play in bringing the characters together? Do they see this calamity coming, or does it catch them unaware? Has God ever used a calamity in your life to bring you closer to God and to others? Talk about those experiences with one another.