About fifteen years ago, The Walt Disney Company used their marketing muscle and a part of their acreage in Central Florida to create a town. Out of the swamps, Celebration, Florida was built to express the core Disney values—cleanliness, friendliness, niceness, safety, and beauty, along with a strong dose of fantasy.
Homes in Celebration were developed with a certain classic, small-town look in mind. The deed restrictions insist that houses be painted in a Disney-approved palette of colors. The grass is to be clipped at a certain height and only certain plants or flowers can be used in landscaping. Cars can only be parked in front of the house at certain times of the day. And the prices on the home insure that only people of a certain socio-economic strata can afford to live there.
There is a town square, which open onto a pristine lake. The streets are lined with the sort of basic stores like a bakery, coffee shop, market, hardware store, pet store, barber shop, ice cream shop, restaurants and various specialty shops for clothes, etc. There are neighborhood schools, small businesses like law offices, doctors and of course, real estate agencies. Those streets are decorated with hanging flower baskets and old-fashioned light poles, and are swept clean several times a day. There are horse-and-carriage rides.
Think Mayberry—on steroids.
When we lived in Florida, we only lived a few minutes from Celebration, and so we visited often. It was a great place to spend a few relaxing hours. One time, we went for the Christmas parade. They turned off the street lights to reveal sparkling lights everywhere. And then, it started snowing. In Florida. You couldn’t help but feel that it was magical.
And that was the whole point.
Celebration was sold as an opportunity to live your entire life in a magical environment. To experience life as we all know it should be. Clean, simple, beautiful, enjoyable, friendly—and above all, safe.
But all that changed in the past week or so.
On Thanksgiving weekend, Matteo Giovanditto, a long-time teacher at the school, was found murdered. It was the town’s first murder. No arrests have been made. Then, this week, there was a stand-off with an armed man, despondent over his divorce and foreclosure on his home. The streets were closed, the school was locked down, SWAT teams surrounded the house and police helicopters circled above the town square.
The world that is crashed into the world they wished for. And the truth became painfully apparent. There is no escape from the brokenness and dark-heartedness of the world. Celebration could not plan, create, airbrush, sweep up, beautify, regulate or deed restrict it away. The Disney magic cannot change human hearts. And neither can any other attempt to remake the world with humanity’s best.
Let’s all sing together: ‘it’s a sick world after all, it’s a sick world after all, it’s a sick world after all; it’s a sick, sick world.” This world is filled with human hearts that are relentlessly depraved. That means the world—and all its towns—is relentlessly dark.
We need more than a magical environment that lasts as long as soap bubble snowflakes in Florida. We need different hearts that will make a different world.
And that’s where another little town comes in.
Remember? It was in Bethlehem that Jesus, God’s Son, was born. He came to our world as the physician who will heal our soul’s brokenness by removing our old, depraved hearts and giving us new hearts. He came to bring Beauty to our ordinary. He came as the Light of the world, who will chase away all our darkness. He came to bring “abundant life, real and better life than we have ever imagined”. He came to bring us life as all long for it to be.
And what Jesus brings is real, not make-believe.
So, this Christmas, when the violence of a broken world crashes into your town, or your family and you feel the rising shock, or sadness, or hurt, or confusion, or cynicism, let’s sing the other town’s song:
O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.
For Christ is born of Mary, and gathered all above,
While mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wondering love.
O morning stars together, proclaim the holy birth,
And praises sing to God the King, and peace to men on earth!
How silently, how silently, the wondrous Gift is giv’n;
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His Heav’n.
No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.
O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!
Now, that is a reason to Celebrate!