A former Lutheran pastor sharing thoughts on faith and life. Please join the conversation! I love your comments!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Warning: "Christmas hope" flood waters rising

As we watched images of destruction following Super Storm Sandy, I was struck at how weather respects no boundaries. Large and luxurious vacation homes - swamped, right along with tiny tenant homes. Old and young, men and women, educated or not, the storm didn’t discriminate. It simply plowed on into the lives of everyone in its path.

One of my posts from some time ago was about Noah’s Ark. In it, I pointed out that a commonly held ancient worldview understood reality before creation to be primeval waters covering the world. These waters represented the forces of chaos and darkness. In most ancient cultures we find some sort of flood story with uncanny resemblances to the Noah’s Ark story, a few of which significantly predate this narrative from Genesis. Many scholars conjecture some sort of actual epic flood event must have given rise to the global popularity of these flood myths. I think it’s also possible to see these flood stories as some sort of parable where the flood waters represent the uncontrollable, unquenchable forces of chaos and darkness. The lesson we might glean would be, only by releasing control and placing absolute trust in God will we be delivered from, in this case, a watery death.

I’m not sure I agree with this message entirely, but it makes sense to me that people of that time would have believed this and I’m guessing a majority of religious people around the world still believe this to be true.
Weather is, in many ways, a great equalizer. All the money in the world may buy you better ground, but it won’t buy you rain. Tornadoes, while inordinately fond of trailer home parks, also like to wipe out affluent subdivisions on an increasingly regular basis. A flood does not use a moral code to discriminate between its victims, so you’d better build an ark if you want to be spared.

Christmas brings with it its own kind of flood. The day after Thanksgiving, the waters start crashing on the shore. Soon we are engulfed with tidal waves of holiday commercials, Christmas music, decorations, Christmas shopping, baking, card writing, Christmas programs, and TV shows and movies. This storm doesn’t discriminate either. It engulfs everyone. But it’s kind of funny to see how different people react. There seem to be two primary camps. One group, of which I’m a proud member, stands with open arms waiting with anticipation for that moment of immersion. In my Christmas letter this year I write, “I love Christmas so much even the commercialization kind of makes me happy. Christmas carols playing in Wal-mart before Halloween even arrives - yes! Bring it on!” This sentiment makes members of the other camp shudder in their shoes. They do everything they can to run for higher ground, holding the rising holiday waters at bay, postponing the playing of Christmas music, for example, to the latest date possible. To that I say, along with others of my kind, “Bah Humbug!”

And then we have the season of Advent - four weeks set aside for the remembered arrival of a baby and the still unfolding implications of his birth. Now generally, we only devote time to preparations if something big is coming down the line. The preparation in advance of Super Storm Sandy, though ultimately inadequate, was still massive in scale for those precious few days leading up to land fall.

Think of the preparations required for a wedding or a funeral. These are significant life ceremonies and as such much time and effort is required to ready ourselves.

So we have this flood of holiday cheer that marks the season of Advent, but this particular flood seems to be designed to prepare for an even larger event of epic proportions. And this is maybe where things kind of break down in the way most of us do Christmas. It’s almost as if we think our preparation are the whole story. Christmas Day arrives. It’s wonderful. And then the next day we begin mentally and emotionally packing the season away. So what was that big, potentially life changing event we spent four or more weeks preparing for? Each year?

I can only think we’ve gotten too good at ark building. Floods are scary. Their nature is all consuming, and no matter if we are flooded with something wonderful or not, the sheer force and power in and of itself is threatening.

In her blog post last week, Sheri wrote about hope. “Deep down Christmas speaks to a desperate hope within us……Hope seems small and fragile, like a babe in a manger, in this world. Yet, I have a suspicion hope’s presence is more akin to a tenacious carpenter laboring to build bonds of love and unity. Not so fragile. Not so small. May we all embrace opportunities for service and compassion this season so that this suspicion is affirmed and hope is stronger than we think.”

This is the key, I think. Hope isn’t so fragile. I think baby Jesus was kind of like the Trojan horse. God snuck hope into our world that long ago night in the most innocent guise imaginable, a little baby. And hope isn’t something to mess with. A flood of hope, well is sounds wonderful and so we spend four weeks every year dancing with that possibility. But I wonder if maybe part of our holiday preparations are spent building an ark we can retreat to when hope becomes too all consuming. Because to immerse oneself in hope has implications. Hope may very quickly lay a claim on the rest of our life. So better to keep it boxed up, to pull out and play with for a few weeks each year before quickly packing it up again the moment the sun sets on Christmas Day.

What would it mean to submerge ourselves in the hope of Christmas? I’ll continue with that thought next week….

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