The evergreen dresses in her stunning Christmas sparkles. Ginger and cinnamon waft from the warm Christmas oven. The family gathers close to the bright Christmas fire, but a guilt-ridden question hangs over our head. Carols sing sweetly in the white Christmas cold. Little toys hang from the tall Christmas tree. Candles and friends and family light up the dark Christmas evenings. But, somewhere in the middle of Christmas wreaths and gingerbread houses, we struggle with the Santa Claus conundrum. Should our Old Jolly Friend visit our Christian household on that blessed Christmas Eve?

During the season of Advent, he always makes his appearance. We wait with bated breath as the readings of the church year turn our focus from the promised end of all things and the coming of the new heavens and new earth to the voice of John the Baptist. His voice, though, is not sweet and calming. It does not fit with the joyful theme of this time of year. There is no peace on earth and goodwill toward men. No, John is like a bull in a China shop. He shakes things up with an urgent call for repentance. “Repent,” he says, “for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

I am always interested in films that involve pastors, whether the pastors are good or bad. Because this is something I know from the inside out, it is not hard to tell whether or not the filmmaker actually knows what he or she is doing in writing or casting the character. Phillip Youmans knows what he is doing in Burning Cane (2019; streaming on Netflix).

Thanksgiving is over. The leftovers are still plentiful – turkey, stuffing, candied yams, maybe even a few pieces of pecan pie. Yes, that awkward dinner with the in-laws – or as I remember my dad wearing a name tag marked “Outlaw” at a family reunion – and life continues. As usual, there is no shortage of things to do, but those tasks are different around this time.