I survived the Decembers of my childhood by distracting myself with sugar cookies and holiday cartoons. Waiting for Christmas is maddening for a kid. The anticipation of unopened gifts is sheer torture. During this unbearable season of expectancy, I took comfort in the company of Frosty, Charlie Brown and the Grinch.
In my day we didn’t have DVRs, DVDs, VCRs or even cable. There were no digital downloads, no Netflix or iTunes. We had no programming on demand. This scarcity made watching the annual Christmas classics a special event of epic proportions. You couldn’t just see this stuff any time you wanted, so you had to plan your life around it. I remember circling the show times in the TV Guide and counting down to each cartoon like a NASA launch.
But of all of these incredible experiences, my favorite was the night CBS would show Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Unlike the other measly half hour cartoons, Rudolph was a full hour of yuletide awesomeness, the Lord of the Rings of the holiday classics.
This cartoon had it all: Santa, elves, reindeer, a carnivorous snow monster and the crisis of a Christmas-crippling blizzard, not to mention the fact that the whole thing had been created using stop-motion animation instead of mere two dimensional drawings, giving it a funky, immersive feel that the other cartoons just didn’t have. When you watched Rudolph, you were totally there. It was the 3D TV of my childhood.
Without question, though, my favorite scene was Rudolph’s visit to the Island of Misfit Toys. For those of you who don’t remember, the Island of Misfit Toys was the home of all the toys who didn’t have a child to love them. Who could forget the ostrich-riding cowboy, the squirt gun that shot jelly, the swimming bird and, of course, the Charlie in the box?
As misfits themselves, Rudolph and his friend Hermie the elf, thought they had finally found a place where they could fit in. But in the encouraging words of their friend Yukon Cornelius, “Even among misfits, you’re misfits.”
You ever feel that way? All of us have had seasons of our lives where we felt like we just didn’t belong. Maybe you’ve been in a place where it seems like everyone else has incredible relationships. Everyone is so connected. They have great friends, meaningful conversations and annoying inside jokes. They dress alike and speak the same language.
You’re the Charlie in the box. For whatever reason, you’re left out. Rejected. Forgotten. You don’t say the right things, wear the right clothes or have the same interests. You just don’t click. Even among misfits you’re a misfit. Though you may be surrounded by tons of people every day, you feel like the loneliest outcast on the planet.
Something inside you, though, says, “It’s not supposed to be like this.” The fact is we all yearn for deep relationships. We all long to belong. That’s why our heart goes out to those misfit toys because we all have a little misfit in us ourselves that’s looking for a home.
Let me clue you in to a shocking bit of Christmas history to help you understand what I mean. In the original 1964 broadcast of Rudolph, we don’t see Santa return to the Island of Misfit Toys. It was just assumed. For all we knew Santa and Rudolph blew off those cute little toys. The cartoon ended with Rudolph getting his big promotion and taking a victory lap around the planet with Santa and his team.
But right after the original broadcast, kids started a write-in campaign because they felt the misfits got gypped. They wanted to see them get picked up and delivered to their new homes. So the next year, the animators inserted the scene that we all know and love where the toys get rescued and sent to a place they belong.
The kids who wrote those letters intuitively knew that we were designed to live in community. We’re all made to love and be loved. But we’re all messed up in some way. We’ve all got our baggage. We all have junk that causes us to feel shame and separation from other people and from God.
God is no Santa Claus, but He did make a way on that very first Christmas for all misfits to be found and to join a beautifully diverse family where our quirks and differences don’t separate us, but simply make us unique. There is no in-crowd in the family of God. No one gets left out who wants to belong. Jesus came and died to make sure of that.
Yes, Christmas is a day for misfits. Just consider the cast of characters who showed up that silent night. A pregnant teen-ager. A King in a manger. Lowly shepherds. Christmas has always been a day that embraces the odd man out.
So this holiday when all of us are prone to feel a little lonely, when our Norman Rockwell expectations fall short, remember that there really is special place for misfits. It’s the heart of God, where grace makes our deepest holiday wishes for unconditional love come true.