In order to keep the holidays blues away, we have to pay attention to the Lord Jesus.
retold by Deborah
Jesus said, “Nobody knows when the Son of Man will appear: not the angels, nor even the Son himself — only the Father.
“It will be like it was with Noah. In those days, before the floods came, people got up in the morning and went to bed at night, they ate and drank, got married, had kids … Life went on as it always did, and nobody thought anything about it until the day Noah climbed into the ark. And they were clueless right up until the flood waters swept them away.
“That’s how the Son of Man’s arrival will be: totally unexpected. Two players will be on the football field; one will be taken and one will remain. Two women will be baking cookies; one will go and one will be left.
“So pay attention; there’s no way to know when the Lord will get here.
“Here’s the thing: if the homeowner had known what time of night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into.
“That’s why you must always be prepared, because the Son of Man will arrive when you least expect it.”
You would think that the reading for the first week of Advent would be more upbeat. Instead of joyfully heralding the blessed Baby’s impending birth, it presents us with a series of disasters: massive flooding, sudden death, home invasions and robbery.
That’s not a very effective way to communicate the “joy to the world” we Christians are always going on about.
Corporations, on the other hand, really understand how to sell a concept. Their advertising is based on the idea that we can have everything we want — and a lot of stuff we didn’t know we wanted — all of which can be purchased at the local mall (or available on line for your shopping convenience).
Once you’ve got that whatever-it-is, all will be well. Your children will be happy, your boss will give you a raise, your teeth will be dazzling white, and your cat will always use the litter box. The proof is plain to see, as it is repeated over and over again on television commercials.
Notice, please, there’s not so much as a suggestion of any problems. Buy now, and life will be trouble-free.
Except, of course, that it won’t be.
The world is a betrayer, peddling extravagant lies. All that glitters isn’t gold, diamonds aren’t a girl’s best friend, booze doesn’t make us interesting, ice cream can’t cure the blues.
But danged if we don’t keep believing, keep trying, keep buying. No matter how often we are disappointed, we go back for more — like so many demented moths banging our heads against the lightbulb, never getting anywhere. Why is that?
“The wish is father to the thought,”
~ Wm Shakespeare, Henry IV
Perhaps we’re so susceptible to the lure of merchandising because we wish it were true. It would be great if there was a marvelous toy that delighted every child. Or a room freshener that made people friendly and agreeable, a power tool or string of pearls or flavored coffee or iPhone app that was guaranteed to bring lasting happiness. We’d buy that.
Of course there isn’t any such thing. But, boy oh boy, do we wish there was.
I blame Santa.
When we were growing up, we heard stories of an amazing old gentleman who lived at the North Pole, had a staff of toy-making elves, a team of flying reindeer, and an uncanny knowledge of “if you’ve been bad or good.” This guy was the king of childhood fantasies.
And every year Santa delivered. He was the ultimate gift-giver; granting our wishes, filling our stockings with treats and our homes with delight, asking nothing and giving bountifully.
On Christmas morning we were happy; our lives were complete, our every desire fulfilled.
But then …..
A toy was broken, the batteries died, a neighboring child got a pony, or the television was turned on. Suddenly the scales fell from our eyes; we realized that what we had received wasn’t what we really wanted, we weren’t truly happy. But if we got that other, new thing, then all would be well.
We never quite got it — in either sense of that expression. We never received that ultimately-satisfying thing, nor did we ever realize that there is no ultimately-satisfying thing.
Oh, we may claim that we know that stuff can’t bring us happiness, but our lived-reality tells a different story. The advertising wouldn’t be there if it weren’t effective: people are still searching for The Answer to our yearning, still wishing for that wondrous thing, still awaiting that delivery — via Santa’s sleigh or FedEx or the U.S. Mail — that will make our lives complete.
But wishing won’t make it so.
Reality is hard. There’s no way to sugar-coat that fact.
It’s tough to grow up, tough to accept the responsibilities of work, family, and finances; it’s tough to deal with relationship changes, with health challenges, with accidents, illnesses, injuries and the deaths of those you love. It would sure be great if Santa would show up with his bag full of goodies, and then everything would be all right.
Of course it would take a lot more than a bunch of toys to make everything all right. We know that. But we sure wish that a visit from Santa could be as effective as it once was when, even for only a few hours, he brought pure delight into our lives.
But Santa doesn’t visit grownups — a fact that may not be quite as obvious as we might think.
Consider the straw man the scoffers set up in order to discount a faith in God: he lives in a distant realm, keeps an extensive log of “who’s been naughty and nice,” responds to every wish, brings piles of presents and promises of earthly happiness. It is Santa Claus clad in celestial robes. They’ve mistaken him for God.
“He doesn’t deliver,” they whine and complain, “The gifts he gives are often flawed and broken, and we rarely get what we’ve asked for.” Dissatisfied with the service they expect to receive, they cease to believe.
Their shock and disappointment about Santa seems to have colored their world view, and they have transferred this resentment to the “god” they have constructed in his image. It is no wonder they are angry and sad.
God isn’t Santa Claus. That needs to be made clear from the outset. God is the creator and giver of life; the work of toy-making and package delivery is left to others.
It turns out that this Advent scripture lesson is a timely one: a reminder that our earthly existence is filled with challenges. When we least expect it, in the midst of our daily routine, problems will arise; we will experience disappointments and sorrows, we will face accidents and illnesses, and endure sudden losses — and we will be given the gift of grace. In the midst of it all, God will provide the sustaining power of love, compassion, patience, and persistence.
The blessed Child arrived in the midst of a challenging time. There was hunger and poverty, high taxes, political unrest, and religious dissent. The rich and powerful ignored the rules that the rest of the people were forced to obey. Injustice, greed, and hypocrisy were the order of the day.
Life was difficult. At times it must have seemed hopeless. But then, suddenly — unexpectedly — everything changed.
In the midst of troubles, trials and tribulations, we were given a lifeline. A Savior was born to us: living proof of God’s love and persistent faith in us. In that Son-rise our Creator renewed the Promise of life and possibility.
“Jesus is the reason for the season.”
If we keep the Lord Christ in the forefront of our thinking, the stresses of this season will disappear. When we treat Christmas as a birthday celebration for our Savior, we will honor Him with gifts that he would appreciate; we will live with compassion, kindness, forgiveness, generosity and — most of all — a courageous, joyful spirit.
Neither Santa nor Macy’s nor Amazon.com can deliver what will satisfy our deepest desires. Despite the ad agencies’ insistence, happiness doesn’t come in a box. Once we take that fact to heart, the pressure is off; we are free to relax and enjoy things without depending on them to “make the holidays sparkle.”
When we put our faith in God, we will cease believing in the power of stuff to heal or comfort or reassure. We will no longer get caught up in frantic efforts to find the “perfect” gift — and we will not be disappointed when what we’ve purchased fails to make life complete. We will enjoy things for what they genuinely are, not as keys to our salvation.
As it was in the time of Noah, so it was for those who lived in first-century Bethlehem: they thought it was just another day when, suddenly, everything changed. As once God had sent a flood to reboot the system, this time a holy Child was sent to redeem the world. Almost no one noticed.
As it was at the time of our Lord’s birth, so it is today: we go through life on automatic pilot, mired in routine. We are bored, we are dissatisfied, we want something to enliven our days. If only Santa would arrive and fill our hearts with good cheer!
We’ve forgotten that the ultimate Christmas present was delivered to us over two thousand years ago. We’ve forgotten that God’s mercy and compassion is boundless, that we are loved and longed-for beyond all understanding. We’ve forgotten that our lives are already filled with wondrous gifts: love and friendship, birdsongs and blue skies, gentle smiles and wagging tails, sunshine and snowflakes…. the list goes on and on.
The only thing that is lacking is our awareness of these facts.
We have no need for piles of merchandise to bring us joy, we simply need to open our eyes and our hearts to the graces that are all around us. We simply have to remember Whose birthday we’re celebrating — and behave accordingly.
“Pay attention.” ~ Jesus
Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,
Put your faith in God, not in stuff.