Not Ready For This
The signs and evidence are beginning to show up all over the place. We have entered again a new time of the year, and I'm not sure I'm ready for it. Oh, it's not like those in Luke. We know what these signs mean. We welcome these decorations. Luke suggests that there will be strange things happening to the sun, moon and stars and we won't know what is happening. The nations on earth will be afraid of the roaring sea and tides. Sounds like El Nino doesn't it? People will be so frightened that they will faint because of what is happening to the world. Every power in the sky will be shaken. Then the Son of Man will be seen, coming in a cloud with great power and glory. When all of this starts happening, stand up straight and be brave. You will soon be set free.
The signs I have noticed are that we have just had the busiest travel day of the year. We have just had a massive movement of humanity towards the malls. We have trees sprung up on vacant lots all over town. We have a tree birthed right here in our own sanctuary. Downtown has its wreaths and its banners and its decorations all up. There is the same kind of music all over the place. Strange things happening. Signs and portents of a coming day of judgment, and I am not ready for it to get here yet. Luke encourages us to look up, rejoice and be glad when we see the signs for the day of judgment comes to confront the idols of history with the grace of God.
Listen to the description of that coming judgment as it is observed by one of our most gracious writers, Erma Bombeck. When the street poles begin to get decorated and the malls are filled with Santa Clauses, there is always a crisis in our home. "Every year, one of my children wants a game for Christmas. It is always one for which the demand exceeds the supply by about 355,000. Every kid in the country has it on his list.
"The game is touted on T.V., beginning in June, with the approach that if it is not under your tree on Christmas Day you are an unfit parent and your child will grow up to rob convenience stores wearing pantyhose over his face.
"By September, your child has built up to such a pitch that if he doesn't get this game, he may give up breathing. He assures you it is the only game he wants. Now the pressure is on you to find that game. For the purpose of avoiding a lawsuit, I will call the game Humiliation, fun for the entire family, order no. 170555354, batteries not included.
"By October, every store in your area is sold out of Humiliation with no hope of getting a new order in. But the television teasers go on, showing a typical American Family with Mom, Dad, and 2.5 children sitting around a table playing Humiliation until they pass out from joy.
"Forget baking fruitcakes, buying a Christmas tree, entertaining with wassail, caroling, sending out Christmas cards, or decorating the house. Every morning as soon as the alarm goes off, your feet touch the floor and you give the battle cry, ‘Find Humiliation today!’
“By midNovember, you have driven 1,800 miles in search of the game, following tips from friends that a discount house in the northern part of the state has two left, or a toy dealer has one under the counter that is damaged but negotiable.
"Oh yes, several times you are tempted to get a game that is a ripoff of Humiliation, like Mortify or Family Conceit, but you know in your heart it wouldn't be the same.
"If you're lucky (?), just before Christmas you race a little old grandmother to the counter and snatch the last Humiliation game on earth from her fingers, buy batteries and put it under the tree.
"On Christmas night, after all the gifts have been opened, while you are picking up the trash, your eyes fall on Humiliation, still in the box, the price tag $99.95 shinning like a beacon. The kids are playing with a cardboard box and snapping the air pockets of the plastic packing material. Humiliation got a ‘Wow, gee thanks,” and now it bas been forgotten.
"Why do we do it?
How are we manipulated into buying toys we cannot afford and are interesting only for a moment. Several reasons, Erma suggests, "For one, we are all basically insecure and are tempted to believe we have to buy affection. The second reason is we are cursed with such short memories.
“We forget what happened last year and the year before that. Like the horse, Remember the Horse? Brown and sucked up eighty gallons of water a day through his face. He was a lot of fun. Lived with us three years. Every time the farrier came to shoe him, it cost $45.00. He attracted flies and hated anything on its back. He was ridden three times.
"The plastic inflatable swimming pool that was to bring the whole family closer together. It was officially dedicated on the morning of July 5 and officially closed on the evening of July 5 when it was noted that a small neighborhood boy had had five glasses of grape koolaide and had not left the pool all day.
"I try to be a good mother, a loving mother, a considerate mother who wants to see her children happy. That's too bad. Shallow and unfeeling is a whole lot cheaper."1
I'm not sure I'm ready to do it again. Year after year. Tickle Me Elmo, Cabbage Patch Dolls, Star War At At, New Stereo. Why do we do it year after year. What do these signs mean. Erma Bombeck says it is the crisis that confronts me again with my own insecurities. I want so desperately to be loved. I want so much to be able to make my loved ones happy. There is so much that keeps suggesting that happiness can be found in material possessions. It is the same kind of temptation as that of finding happiness at the bottom of a bottle of gin, or in the next fix from the needle. There is that every constant pressure of those around us who will not think we care about our children if we do not get them what they want. There is that pleasure of being one of those who gets the prized possession when others did not. The signs are all there for it to begin again.
But Luke says to look up and rejoice when the signs of judgement come near for there is where redemption is possible. Luke talks about the shaking and the trembling of the stars, moon and sun. The whole universe begins to tremble. The shaking of the powers of heaven suggest not so much the collapsing of the whole physical universe, as it suggests that what is about to happen is the overthrow of all those lesser idols who pretend to supremacy. When these signs begin to happen we are to rejoice because those powers and principalities, those sins, which have gone on so long unchecked, unexposed, and unpunished, are now being confronted by the eternal grace of God.
The signs are strong that we are about to repeat the Humiliation game and I am more than anything else, reminded of my own fears and insecurities. I cannot make those I love, love me. I cannot prove my love by some material gift to those I love. My value as a person is not connected to what I can give nor is it found in what I am given.
What is true for me as an individual is also true for us as a people. The signs and portents of the coming season of judgment and preparation remind us that as human beings we hunger and thirst for something more than is available through this earth.
The Christian hope is ground in the promised cosmic dismantling and reconstructive transformation that God is doing in the whole world. The good news of Advent is that we are being met, reconstructed by God who desires to make all things new. By the crisis of judgment of the Humiliation game, we discover who we are and we are then ready to be renewed, reconstructed. Remade in reality according to the terms of God's ultimate goals—individually and as a society. There are lots of New Age groups who keep trying to tell us that God is the same thing as nature. God is the vital forces of life to be found in all creation. God is the energy in all living things. God is the life that is all around us in all matter. God is the Primal Matrix or Gaia the great Mother Earth Goddess, from whom all existence comes and life has force. God is the same as creation. The fact that our material toys do not long satisfy our deepest hunger confirms the scriptures’ claim that God is not identical with material creation, with nature. When creation crumbs and falls, when the fur coat and the new car no longer matter, God’s word continues to abide.
Erma suggests we go through it all over because we are so desperate to please, so eager to be loved, so insecure in our own worth, so flail and short of memory that we forget what we learned last year about ourselves and about who we are and what our children need. When the signs and decorations begin to appear, now is the time to remember and prepare, for the crisis is at hand and our redemption does draw near, for when we in fact are able to be honest with our selves then we are ready to receive the grace that God is preparing to deliver.
But I'm not sure I'm ready for that yet. One family I know when they faced this judgment decided that Christmas was Jesus’ birthday, and the person whose birthday it is, is the one who gets the gift. I get gifts on my birthday. You get gifts on your birthday. Christmas is Jesus' birthday. Jesus gets the gift, not us. And they made Christmas a time of deciding how to give gifts to Jesus on Christmas. Children, adults, aunts and uncles, the Christmas discussion was about what would be nice gifts to give Jesus and where and how do we give them to him. For Jesus has said wherever two or three are gathered in his name, there he is so they could give gifts to the church people. They could give gifts to the hungry and thirsty and naked and prisoners because Jesus said who ever has done it to these has done it to me. They reconstructed their celebration after looking at what they learned about themselves in the moments of judgement of the humiliation game. I'm not sure I'm ready for that. But I am not sure I want to play the game again. And it does sound like they have been set free.
First Presbyterian Church
1Erma Bombeck, “MOTHERHOOD: The Second Oldest Profession,” Random House: New York, 1987, p. 589.