About Me

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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Me, I Want A Hula Hoop.

Date: 12/04/2005
Feast: 2nd s of adv
Church: Lake Hills
Bible text: Mark 1:1-8

Of the four Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – the Gospel According to Mark is the only one that doesn’t tell the story of Jesus’ birth. Matthew and Luke tell us how Jesus was born in body. They tell us of the baby, of Joseph and Mary, the manger and the wise men. The Gospel According to John tells us how Jesus was born in spirit – the light of God, born before all creation. But Mark, the Gospel that always seems to be in a hurry, bounds over Bethlehem, skips over the shepherds, and shoots past the star that shone in the east. The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, according to Mark, doesn’t even begin with Jesus. It begins with his cousin, John the Baptist, when both of them are in their late twenties. And it starts like this:

"See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
'Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,' "

According to Mark, the gospel of Jesus Christ begins in a hurry. And it begins with someone else.

When I was young – and I really hate having to preface my words like that – back when I was a “wee tot,” – back when “having a record,” didn’t mean you’d been to prison – back when you physically saw your music turning round and round and could read the label if you moved your head in a circle fast enough…. (Where was I? Oh yeah.) When I was young, I had a favorite Christmas record album. Maybe some of you had it, too. The best song on the album (and the only one I remember) went like this…

Dave: "All right you Chipmunks! Ready to sing your song?"
Alvin: "I'll say we are!"
Simon: "Yeah!"
Theodore: "Let's sing it now!"
Dave: "Okay, Simon?"
Simon: "Okay!"
Dave: "Okay, Theodore?"
Theodore: "Okay!"
Dave: "Okay, Alvin? Alvin? ALVIN!!!"
Alvin: "OKAY!!!"

Christmas, Christmas time is near,
Time for toys and time for cheer.
We've been good, but we can't last.
Hurry, Christmas, hurry fast!

Want a plane that loops the loop.
Me, I want a hula hoop,
We can hardly stand the wait.
Please, Christmas, don't be late.

For me, and for so many kids now and always, this song embodies the spirit of Christmas. Hurry. Don’t be late. We can’t stand waiting. Christmas begins in a hurry. And it begins with someone other than Jesus the Christ. Does that mean the Chipmunks got it wrong? Or does that mean the gospel translates differently for different people?

Malls. Online shopping. Black Friday and Cyber Monday. These have become the hurried, alternative signs of the celebration of the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ – if you believe they have anything to do with the baby Jesus at all.

My favorite Christmas TV special is one that you simply couldn’t get away with making in this day and time. Again, I’m sounding old and grumpy, but it’s true. I am getting old and grumpy. Made way back in 1965, “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” remains one of the most clever pieces of social commentary ever made. Charlie Brown is sick of the commercialism of Christmas. We hear Linus reciting scripture in the lone spotlight of the school stage. Made about the same time as the Chipmunks’ Christmas Album, Charlie Brown translates gospel differently, and gently, for people who can’t wait, and who can’t be good much longer.

“Repent! For the kingdom of heaven has come near.” John the Baptist shouted his message from the banks of the River Jordan. “Hurry!” he said to the people. “Get down here now! Because there aren’t many days left. For shopping or for anything else.” You see, for John, the coming of Christ, the Messiah, meant the end of the world as we know it. And maybe the end of the world, period. So if you didn’t get your business done in a hurry, you might not get it done at all. It’s funny how the anxious truth of John, the anxiety of his words, has gotten translated into our day and time. Oh sure, these days, the days of Advent, are anxious times. But not because we’re worried about the coming one who’s going to baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit. Did you see the news footage of the store doors bursting open and the shopper getting trampled on the floor? That ought to bring us horrible anxiety. But that’s not the kind of anxiety John the Baptist had in mind. And that’s not the kind of hurry he – or the gospel writer, Mark – were advocating.

Mark – for whatever his reasons were – wants us to know that the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ doesn’t have to begin with the peace and quiet of a silent, holy night, where all is calm and all is bright. Mark wants Christmas to hurry and not be late. I think Mark’s version of the gospel is telling us that the advent of Jesus Christ comes to foolish people scrambling in the dark, as well as to people who are calm and bright. In Mark’s version of the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ begins by telling us to get ready. Mark tells us to get ready, and hold on tight, because this good news is going to be a bumpy ride and its purpose is to shake us up. It’s going to involve birth and death, and crucifixion – but most importantly to you and me, this gospel ride is going to involve you and me, too.

Something I recently had pointed out to me is that the Gospel According to Mark in our Bibles doesn’t have a proper ending. At the end of the book, it just stops in mid-sentence. “Therefore…” and then, nothing. Maybe Mark lost his train of thought before the publisher snatched up his manuscript. Maybe he had a fatal heart attack. Or maybe, the whole gospel story is just the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ. Maybe the whole Gospel According to Mark is just the hurried setup, the prologue to saying, “OK, now – YOU finish it. You’ve got the beginning, now you supply the ending. You’ve heard the story; now what are YOU going to do with it?”

According to Mark, John the Baptist’s message (which eventually becomes Jesus’ message, by the way) isn’t to “slow down and gaze at the Tannenbaum.” John (and Jesus’) message is to “repent.”

Another minister recently told me a definition of repentance. She said, “Repentance is changing what you love.” Repentance is changing what you love. If your Christmastime hurry and anxiety moves you closer to the kingdom of heaven, then fine and good for you. But if your Christmastime anxiety pulls you away from Christ, then you need to change what you love, if not in word then at least in deed. Change what you love so your heart can repent, so you don’t run at a frantic chipmunk pitch. There are other ways to translate your love and need for Jesus Christ.

Want a plane that loops the loop? You, you want a hula hoop? Or an Xbox 360? Fine and good. But if your love for Christ gets lost in translation, then your love is pointing the wrong direction. The greatest gift that John the Baptist brings us is the gift of pointing, pointing Jesus out to us. Pointing us down the straight paths that lead us to God’s love.

If, this time of the year, if you feel like a 33-and-a-third record playing at 78 rpm, if that’s the way you have to be to get everything done, then, OK. The gospel-writer Mark and John the Baptist were in a hurry, too – and the good news still got told. I know my life’s not going to slow down at Christmastime, so I’m not going to stand here and tell you to decelerate yours. You see, Christmas – the kind of Advent of Jesus Christ that John tells us about – doesn’t depend on us. God’s good news is going to catch up with us no matter how fast or how slow we run. The four gospels in the Bible can’t even agree on exactly how the good news of Jesus Christ begins. What they can agree on is how it ends. It ends with you. The gospel’s point is your life in the here and now… and the lives of your neighbors… and the lives of your friends… and even the lives of your enemies, too. The gospel ends with you and Christ finishing the story that begins saying, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”

You know how the gospel begins. And so, therefore…