What does the movie have to do with Advent? Let's start with its themes of unconditional love, of sin and repentance, of forgiveness and redemption. This movie connects with a deeper spirituality within me; it's not just a cute little girl capturing the hearts of everyone she meets. There's so much more that I become aware of with each viewing.
Heidi is left by her aunt to live with her grandfather, a recluse in a rugged hut high up a mountain, who is feared by the people in the village below. Heidi, though, approaches this man - a total stranger to her - with a wide smile and an acceptance and love for him just as he is, her innocent child's hands holding a bouquet of wildflowers she's picked on the long hike up the mountain. The sweet innocence of youth holds no judgement or criticism of her grandfather; instead, she offers him a sweet, pure love without any conditions, without any hesitation. Watching this the other night - my heart filled with Advent reflection - I thought that this is much like Jesus loves us, seeing our beautiful, perfect spirits within, loving us unconditionally. There is no "I'll love you if you'll love me back" from either Heidi or Jesus. There is simply "I love you."
Sin and Repentance
In the face of that love, the grandfather's self-imposed isolation turns to a a joyful embrace of this child's presence in his lonely life and he soon loves his granddaughter with a powerful protectiveness, the two of them singing and laughing through their chores and school lessons each day. When they read the story of the prodigal son together, the grandfather wistfully quotes from memory: "'But the father said, 'Bring the best robe and put it on him, and put rings on his finger. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. For this my son was dead and is alive again. He was lost and now is found.'"
The grandfather had rejected his son - Heidi's father - years ealier, when the son married a woman the grandfather did not approve of. And now the son was dead and the old man's regrets are etched in the softness and longing in his expression as he quotes the biblical passage. A tremendously moving scene, you get a sense that the man is talking with both his son and his God, repenting his past sins and asking forgiveness from them both. Then his expression softens further, and we understand that he realizes his son is truly "alive again", through his beloved granddaughter, Heidi.
Forgiveness and redemption
"If a man has a hundred sheep and one is gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go into the mountains and seek that which is gone astray? And if... [Heidi and her grandfather enter the church. Pastor Schultz pauses] ... And if he finds it, he rejoices more than of the ninety-nine which went not astray."
The grandfather's heart is so changed, that he decides to return to the village and take Heidi to church. As they arrive, the pastor is preaching the parable of the lost sheep. He pauses and all eyes turn to the Grandfather and Heidi as they walk up the aisle and take a seat. Whispers and smiles fill the church as the Grandfather and Heidi join in and sing with the congregation. After the service, the citizens of the village all gather 'round the two outside the church, eager to shake the grandfather's hand and welcome him back with warmth and caring. No judgement, no criticism, only joy at his return. A real God moment.
I know these thoughts are very simplistic; after all, this is the movies and Shirley Temple movies were crafted to tug at the heart strings with a three-part plot of happiness - crisis - happiness. Believe me, I know. (And that's why I like them.) But lately, I'm seeing evidence of God in so many things in each day and each moment. Why don't we have more movies like this today, movies that prompt us to live our own lives better and in closer connection with all that is good and wholesome? Movies that draw our thoughts toward God and peace and love toward one another. When Shirley sings "Silent Night", there is a deep sense of peace and calm in my spirit. This is how I want movies to make me feel.
Advent continues to help me see the sacred in all that is around me and explore how Heidi's lessons of love, repentance and forgiveness can be practiced in my own life.