Emmanuel: God With Silliness


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!


Hashtagging My Activism And Ice Dumping It All Away


I am not a cause-y person. To be sure, I get passionate about stuff, even overly passionate at times, but I often feel like passion gets in the way of compassion and I would rather have a soft heart than a loud voice.

Or maybe I just burned out in college. I went to a wonderful private Christian university where I spent some of the best years of my life. Like most college aged students we were all about causes. You name the cause, we supported it wholeheartedly. We watched “Invisible Children” documentaries (before they went mainstream), dug wells in Africa, built houses in Mexico, took offerings for people in the community and played Bingo at retirement homes.

Also, like most college aged students, we were incredibly noncommittal. So we had a “cause of the month” where a big crisis captured our attention. Every single one was, “the most important tragedy of our time” until the next month came along with another tragedy. Then that one became the most important before we had done one lick of good for the last cause.

So I am not cause-y. I care a lot about a lot of things but uniting passion to my compassion isn’t my thing.

I bring this all up because last week ALS became our “cause of the week” where we either gave money to ALS research or dumped ice on our heads. I have a sneaking suspicion most people did both since ALS has received millions of dollars and YouTube is still full of people pouring ice on their heads.

Of course every time we come up with something new and fun to do someone has to be the killjoy who reminds us we aren’t actually helping ALS out by dumping ice on our heads. These are the same people who reminded us we didn’t actually become more like Jesus by wearing a bracelet, don’t actually have compassion for cancer victims by wearing a pink ribbon and don’t actually encourage people to vote for our politician by putting their bumper stickers on a car.

These people are right of course, except that they are not. These gimmicks all worked, even the WWJD bracelets. They all increased awareness for their cause and with that awareness came (and still comes) a great amount of money that has done a lot of good.

These critics don’t think silliness and compassion can co-exist but I think they are wrong. In fact, the ice bucket challenge went viral the same week that we mourned the loss of Robin Williams, who though being quite silly, is still heralded as having great compassion. In my own life the silliest people have the biggest hearts. The people willing to dump a bucket of ice over their heads for laughs are the ones willing to cry with the hurt and broken, suffer alongside cancer victims and give money to any who will ask.

I have learned as a pastor that to be successful (whatever that word means) I must put up with or even enjoy the inherent silliness of people. The reality is we live in a world where we spend billions of dollars to watch over-padded athletes toss around an awkward shaped ball. In that same world computer programmers spend hundreds of hours writing a story and developing mechanics to create a video game that millions will spend 100 hours of their lives to conquer. We run 26.1 miles for fun and that last tenth of a mile makes it all the more ridiculous as if 26 miles wasn’t long enough. We pay hundreds of dollars to see people stand in an auditorium and tell jokes or play music. And at home we are even more silly, playing card games with ridiculous rules (slap the 8s!) and then get mad when someone breaks the rules because breaking the rules of a card game are like breaking the 10 commandments!  We spend $10 a person (another $10 on popcorn) to see a movie whose entire plot is watching things blow up.  We even play charades, a game so dumb it consists of people miming household objects to each other.  All of this merely cracks the surface of our absurdity because if you cross country lines you will see similar silliness at work in the rest of the world.

It is all to be celebrated and enjoyed because I am quite certain that the New Creation will consist of nothing but such folly. We will tell jokes and play innocent pranks and pour into theaters to see which Angel is “The Last Comic Standing.” We will play games and have dances and we will certainly sing wonderful songs.

But this side of eternity our silliness should sometimes have a point. So if wearing a pink badge or dumping ice on your head is a way to raise money and awareness for those suffering under debilitating diseases, we are all the more merry and all the better for it.