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

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Where Did You Hide the Mustard?

John 18:33-38
Christ the King Sunday
58-Cking-W-Year B
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church
November 23, 2003, Nov 26, 2006

Today is “Christ the King” Sunday, according to the church calendar. The lectionary of scripture readings gives us a bit of prophecy today. It tells us to look ahead to what the upcoming holiday season is all about. Here we are -- we’ve got a seat on the roller coaster of holidays, and we’re hanging at the top of the first hill, at the moment when the chains have stopped clanking. And in the silent second before gravity shoots us down the tracks we open our eyes to look ahead at where we’re going to end up. Thanksgiving and Christmas: what’s it all about? What IS truth? Instead of reading the Feeding of the 5000, which might be more appropriate for Thanksgiving – or about the angels tuning up their harps for Christmas Eve, the calendar of scripture gives us Jesus on trial before Pilate. It’s EASTER scripture. It reminds us that what we’re about to sling through isn’t only about the ups and downs of holidays, isn’t only about the bouncing and squealing, and isn’t only about digestive tract aerobics. “Christ the King” tells us to look beyond what the world tells us to see what’s the truth.

“What IS truth?” Pilate asks Jesus. Some of us look really bad. I don’t mean that we aren’t good looking; I mean that we aren’t good at looking for things. You might be one of those guys who can’t find anything– or you might be married to one of those guys (or you might have BEEN married to one of those guys). I can stand with the refrigerator door open, staring straight at the bottle of mustard, and still holler out, “Where did you hide the mustard?” It’s because I’ve got this image in my head of what a bottle of mustard is supposed to look like, and where it’s supposed to be. My brain doesn’t accept any deviation from the image. When I’m searching the house for something, I have to prepare by realizing what I’m looking for may actually look different than how I think it does. Therefore, I can never really know what I’m looking for. It disturbs the children to see their father wandering aimlessly from room to room, but they’ll get used to it. “What are you looking for, Daddy?” “Well, dear daughter, I know what I think I’m looking for. But I also know that what I’m looking for may not be what I find.” It’s a moment of Zen I can share with the kids. Pilate is a where-did-you-hide-the-mustard kind of guy. The truth of God is standing before him and he doesn’t see it. Jesus is a huge deviation from the earthly image of a king, and Pilate’s brain can’t process it.

Every year, from the church to Charlie Brown, we’re told to look beyond the boxes and bows to find the REAL meaning of Christmas. As if it’s some kind of secret. Where the holidays are concerned, we’re all where-did-you-hide-the-mustard kind of people. It’s not that the truth is hidden; it’s that we have a pre-printed template of how things are supposed to be. Blame Currier & Ives, blame MasterCard, blame your PS3 or your Wii. Blame whoever you want. Every year we put Christmas on trial, judging how well it measures up to our dreams or memories. And so, by pure association, we put Jesus on trial, too.

No wonder people get stressed or depressed at Christmas. No wonder so many people lose their religion at the time they’re supposed to be finding it. Trying to twist the image of God into our personal mold is not only a waste of time, it’s a waste of faith. Pontius Pilate looks at a king and sees anything but. Bethlehem sleeps while a handful of shepherds find the infant Savior. We buy more and decorate more and cook more and wonder why we don’t feel Jesus more. We can’t change the shape of the mustard jar; but we can change our idea of what we’re looking for.

In the court of Pilate it wasn’t the truth that was on trial; Pilate’s eyesight was what was on trial. In the Thanksgiving-Christmas holiday season, it’s not Jesus that’s on trial. Jesus is the truth and the truth doesn’t need to be tested. During the holidays, it’s not Jesus that’s on trial; it’s our ideas about Jesus that are put to the test. Jesus was never and is never on trial; we are.

Of course it’s no big news that we’re all tried and tested in the holiday season. Is the breadcrumb dressing as good as his mother’s? Is the turkey cooked too dry? Are the Christmas lights better looking (and/or more plentiful) than the next-door-neighbor’s? (And by the way, there’s nothing more exciting than guys who can’t find mustard climbing up ladders with electrical cords hanging from their mouths.) Are the presents good enough? Did other family members get better ones? We know this stuff isn’t the “true” meaning of Christmas. We know Thanksgiving isn’t an annual cooking competition. We know this, but the holidays have such great temptation. But the great temptation isn’t spending too much, isn’t eating too much, isn’t partying too much. Those are temptations, but they aren’t the big one. The great temptation of the holidays is looking straight into the eyes of their truth – and not seeing it. Christ the King is a huge deviation from anything human brains would ever conceive. The kingship of Christ doesn’t have to be proved number one. The truth of Christ doesn’t have any competition. During the holidays, it’s not Jesus that’s on trial; it’s our ideas about Jesus that are put to the test. If we think we can’t rightly give God thanks if the pie crust burns around the edges, we’re wrong. If we think Christmas won’t come if Santa goofs up, we’re wrong.. The truth of Jesus Christ the king will have stood right in front of us, and we will have missed it.

Jesus tells Pilate that his kingdom isn’t of this world, and that the world just doesn’t get it. To a great extent that’s still true today. But just as then, there are parts of the world that do get it. There are shepherds who’ll hear angels, there are wise men (and wise women) who’ll follow a star. There are people who have just enough faith in Christ the King that they’ll hang on for the up and down (and sometimes loopy) roller-coaster ride of the holiday season. And when it’s all over and done they’ll look around and say, “Let’s do it again.”

In these coming weeks, wherever our preconceived notions get in our way of seeing Christ the King, wherever our mental blocks keep us from feeling the true meaning, keep us from seeing the truth, of all these days, relax… let go… and know that Christ is born, Christ has died, Christ will come again. Christ is King. And that’s the truth.