3rd Sunday in Addvent
December 12, 2010
3Advent2010 Matthew 11:2-11 December 12, 2010
John the Baptist asks, “Are you the one, or are we to wait for another?”
We were at a restaurant and a mom and two kids came and sat at a table behind us. They were talking so loud it was impossible to not hear them. The mom was intent on helping the kids catch that Christmas wasn’t just about getting presents. The little boy then asked, “Well what’s it about then?” I was hoping she’d tell them about Jesus. The mom seemed taken a back by the question. “Well,” she said slowly, “it’s about family and friends and giving thanks for everything we have.” The older child then asked, “But Mom, if Christmas isn’t just about presents why are all the decorations in this restaurant Christmas stockings with presents in them?”
I looked around and sure enough, every decoration in the restaurant was a 3-dimensional 5-6 foot stocking stuffed full of toys. They were cute and huge so I don’t know why I hadn’t noticed. We needed to leave so I don’t know where the conversation went next, but I wish I’d have had a flyer on me to invite them to something, or had some gentle way to point to God’s incarnate love. I thought afterwards that it could have been fun to tell the waiter to give us the bill for their meal and tell them that it’s a gift, like Christmas, that comes to us in our real world. But it was a buffet where you pay when you order, so their meal was already paid for. I’ve been praying for them and if I see them again I’ll have a plan.
Perhaps you were one of the over 18 million people who viewed the YouTube where a choral group broke into the Hallelujah Chorus in a shopping mall Food Court. Everything was as usual with shoppers sitting at tables talking, enjoying food, minding their business. Then a strong soprano barrels out as if talking on her cell phone but she’s singing the opening “Hallelujah.” Then a loud bass chimes in, and then another, one by one or in pairs, talented people stood up from the tables where they’d been quietly sitting and burst into song. It obviously caught people by surprise and moved many to smiles and picture taking and in the end, cheers.
We are a culture trying to remember what we don’t want to forget – that Christmas is more than giving and receiving presents. God so loves the world that God enters human life – with its challenges and imperfections – not just back then, but in our shopping malls and Food Courts, homes and schools. churches and hearts. Part of what challenges us is that there’s so much to this Christmas love – so much that we frankly just don’t know what to do with it.
Our expectations are usually either too much or too little. They are too much if we hope for the perfect present or perfect family or friends, or perfect community, or perfect feeling. We’re putting too much on it if perfection is what we hope for. But I doubt many of us expect too much perfection of life anymore. Most likely, we expect too little.
Christmas is God taking everlasting love and putting it in a manger, or as Brennan Manning suggests, putting all of Niagara Falls in a teacup. If we were to let ourselves really expect everlasting love to come crashing into our lives – it’d be too much without some rituals to help us get our arms around such an impossible. Recently, I had the joy of hearing Cindy Crounse play her bassoon in a Cantata called A Baby Changes Everything. It has a line where a shepherd says “I don’t believe anything I can’t touch.” God knows that human need so God bends to the concrete. Christian faith bends to our need to see, hear and hold.
That’s why the arts are so prevalent in Christianity. Have you noticed how much of Christianity is expressed through the arts? Paintings, music, liturgical arts, Advent Wreaths, Christmas trees, pottery, banners, candles, nativity scenes. Arts of all sorts help the story of God’s love become concrete for us – so we can take it in. We are humans trying to make sense of the divine presence breaking into life – and we do well to play with every image we can to help us see this mystery and believe that it is for us. Every effort to bring the story home is a gift. And there are myriad ways of making the message concrete and you are doing it all the time.
Being here last night for the Hanging of the Greens, bringing Christmas breads next week to share, making cookies with grandchildren, serving dinner at the Torres Shelter, singing carols and anthems, participating in candlelight services, remembering the poor, praying, spending time in silence before the story, coming to Holy Communion, visiting an in-bound person, sharing a gift, writing a card – especially to someone who has lost a loved one.
We do well when we enact these rituals because one or the other of them just might finally bring the story home to our hungry hearts. What could be more important than helping each other tune our ears and focus our eyes to hear and see God’s birth among us!
And we do have to train our eyes to see and our ears to hear. We don’t hear and see the magnitude of God’s coming without come coaxing and support. Perhaps you read or saw the story from the Washington Post where they talked one of the world’s best violinists, Joshua Bell, into playing his 31/2 million$ violin in a New York subway.
Last Christmas the scenario was set up where Mr. Bell would play a piece of music he thinks is the most brilliant piece ever written. He chose a long selection by J.S. Bach. He was dressed in casual clothes and put his violin case opened in front of him and for about 45 minutes played with the same talent as when he plays in Carnegie Hall where the cheap seats are $100. They say he’s worth $1000/minute. So, he played in the subway while the Washington Post recorded what happened. Would people stop and listen on their rush through the subway? Would they toss some coins into his violin case? Would people recognize who was in their midst?
The story reminds me of John the Baptist in today’s Gospel. John asks, “Are you the one, Jesus, or should we wait for another?” Not even John was sure it was Jesus. And how about us? Do we recognize Christ in our midst? Do we see in the tiny bit of bread and wine at Communion the real presence:“Take and eat, this is my body, for you?” Do we see in our neighbor one who Christ’s forgiveness calls us to forgive? Do we see Christ in every act where someone lets go of a grudge and reaches out with a hug? For those with eyes to see and ears to hear, the Christ of Christmas has everything to do with Christ-like living being born in us. And when we live it, the angels in heaven break into Hallelujahs.
But life flies by. There are so many opportunities and moments we don’t want to miss. We scurry on, whether in a New York subway, or in Chico, or Durham or Forest Ranch. But how good it is when we don’t miss the Christ – when we hear the angels singing because Christ has been born anew – right here – right now – in the love and forgiveness and grace we show each other.
So what do you think happened with violinist Joshua Bell in that unsuspecting subway? If you read the article you know. About a thousand people walked by in those 45 minutes, but only a handful noticed the music. One man stopped long enough to lean against the wall for a while. A few dropped in coins, some even a dollar bill. But most didn’t even give him a nod.
The Christ Child comes inviting us to lives of purpose and joy, forgiveness and grace. He comes in a manger so we’ll hopefully be drawn to stop and see and hear who’s cooing – for us – who’s waking us to be little Christ’s to our neighbor; waking us to receive each other as Christ receives us. It’s that simple. The whole of Niagara Falls in the teacups of our lives. It’s irrational, but it’s Christmas. May we be ready to join our Hallelujahs with the angel’s for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth! That is Christmas – and it’s coming soon – to your life and to mine.
+Pastor Peg Schultz-Akerson, to the glory of God
Faith Lutheran Church, Chico, CA