A few posts ago I mentioned that I try not to blog what I preach or preach what I blog. Not surprisingly, this is the second time since that post that I am breaking that rule.
I wanted to bring something Christmassy to you all on this glorious day, something a bit more profound than that last post about my favorite Christmas TV episode. And I have been reading blog posts of other Christmas homily’s that were given last night and eventually thought, why not post mine as well.
What follows is an abbreviated version of what I shared with my church last night. Enjoy!
About 3 or 4 times a year I find myself preaching the same message. The message goes something like this. We live in a tragic world. Bad things happen to good people and, even more aggravating, good things happen to bad people. There are tornadoes and earthquakes and floods. There are car accidents and drug overdoses and sudden heart attacks and brain aneurysms. There are bad people whose purpose seems to be nothing but to kill and destroy. But even though we walk through valleys of the shadow of death, God is with us. Even though we mourn, we do not mourn like those who have no hope. There will be a new heaven and a new earth where there will be no more tears and we will be with the Lord forever.
It’s a good message. It is at the heart of the Bible which is why I preach it so much.
And I deal with tragedy on a regular basis, about once a week on average. Pastors get to be the unsung heroes of tragedy. We are one of your first calls, right after the paramedics I hope! And it is my privilege to be there.
I am not perfect at responding to tragedies but I am confident that I know the places to go and the things to say and not to say. I have the Bible verses memorized and I can shed the tears and use the right tones that convey shared sorrow.
But I also deal with another element of the human condition on a regular basis, probably daily. And I am not as confident when it comes to this. You see, I deal with silliness. People are just silly. While it is true we live in a tragic world, it is also true that we live in a very silly world.
We took the wonderful story of a black, skinny 4th century, African saint named Nicolas who gave gifts to children and we turned that story into a cosmic tale of a fat, white, bearded man who lives on the north pole. He sees you when your sleeping and he knows when your awake and he breaks into your house every Christmas Eve but don’t worry, it is to give not to steal. It is a silly story.
To make it sillier we added reindeer and gave one of them a shiny nose. Then we turned Tim Allen into him and that is probably the moment when Santa jumped the shark. If not, then it was definitely when Will Ferrell became his “Elf.”
And I just have to say for all the father’s in the room that my money paid for the presents. It was me who stayed up until 2am putting the presents together and I don’t feel like a jolly fat white fictional guy should get credit for it! Can I get an “Amen?”
But our silliness extends far beyond our stories. It finds its way to our language. We drive on parkways and park on driveways. I am a bit of a language nut and I have no idea what weird thing happened in the development of the English language to turn our parkways into driveways and our driveways into parkways but there it is, one of many ridiculous exceptions to the rules that govern our communication!
Our corporations are ridiculous. They develop identical products and then spend billions of dollars to convince you that they are not identical. Then when they realize it they sue each other over patent infringement. That is silly, but not as silly as us consumers who choose sides and go to the internet with our angry twitter hashtags!
We spend millions of dollars making movies whose entire plot consists of blowing things up in slow motion. Then we pay money to see it and go online and tell everybody how dumb it was, even though we secretly enjoyed it.
We pay athletes millions of dollars to dress up in silly costumes and hit each other, all while trying to get an oblong ball to an end zone. Then we riot and trash our own town when our team loses. I can’t even begin to explain why.
The silliness finds our marriages. A pastor friend told me awhile back about a marriage that was in jeopardy because the wife had purchased over 300 pairs of jeans. She had bought one a week for six years and refused to get rid of any of them. The husband was saying pair number 301 was going to be the cause of divorce. He was filing paperwork over number 301 and I don’t blame him!
The most ridiculous thing is that the people who don’t think they are silly at all are the silliest. You know who I am talking about. These are the people who are quite adamant about things like the weather. They are stern and cranky and you better not disagree with their interpretation of how harsh last winter was, because they will show you their wrath! Do they realize how dumb they are? I can never figure out.
When these people find me (and they always do) I don’t have the words for silliness. I don’t know the Bible verses for ridiculous. I don’t have any cliches memorized that gently convey, “I don’t really care about this opinion your have.” I know a little about how to deal with tragedy but when people are just being silly, especially when they are being judgmental and passionate in their silliness, I don’t have a clue of what to say. What I want to say is, “Get over it” but that doesn’t sound very compassionate. So instead I give them a blank stare and I stammer and say something like, “Well I guess last winter was worse than this year’s.” Then I kick myself later because I know they are going to their friend to say, “See, Pastor agrees with me.” And we all know I am right about everything, or not.
But this Christmas when we come again to the manger, as we gather again to marvel at “Emmanuel” who is God with us, I find great comfort that just as God descended into tragedy, God also descended into silliness.
Here in Bethlehem around 4 B.C. in a manger was a God who took on the entirety of our human condition. We believe that here in the manger is full God and full human at the same time. We do not believe that Jesus is half and half. We used to burn people at the stake for doing that, which was both silly and tragic, but that is how strongly we believe it. We have always said that here in the manger is all of God taking on all of humanity.
Emmanuel in the manger is God with us in our tragedies. He is God with us in silliness. He is God with us in the awkward moments and God with us in the tense situations. God is with us when our wife buys jeans number 301 and we scream and yell and stomp off to a lawyer. God is with us when we walk away from a half hour argument about whether the average temperature last winter was 40 degrees or 45 degrees. Then it suddenly occurs to us, “I don’t really care what the temperature was but I sure cared in the heat of debate!” God is with us even then.
All of God has taken on all of our goofiness, all of our ridiculousness, all of our stupidity.
God is not intimidated or threatened by any part of the human condition but God is among us. He is guiding us, calling us, leading us to the place where we can be fully with God, fully aware of his presence in our tragedies, in our sorrows, in our frustrations and yes, even in our silliness.
Merry Christmas Everybody!