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

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


Luke 1:39-45

“Cut To the Chase!”

Lake Hills Presbyterian Church

December 24, 2006

Cut to the chase.

Here, in the final 24 shopping hours before Christmas, I want to take a moment to thank you all for coming to church. Especially you men. Because, being of the male persuasion, I know how important the last minutes of shopping time can be. Shopping gets more exciting as the game clock winds down and you’re this close to staging a last-second, three-point good-husband shot from way downtown. For an awful lot of people – men, women, boys and girls – Christmas is a full-contact, competitive sport… which is just how God envisioned it. “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great parking spaces. Even at Wal-Mart.” (And there was much rejoicing.) Elbowing for Elmos, cursing the computer, beeping at the Blount County drivers (and I am one, now. Which proves all the stereotypes). Yes, it certainly looks and sounds a lot like Christmas, everywhere you go.

Advent is a time of waiting. We do a lot of waiting this time of year. Not by choice. We wait because the checkout lines are halfway down the aisle. We wait because the online ordering network crashed. We wait because we drive cars – and so does everyone else, all at the same time. We wait, but not because we want to. We wait, but we don’t enjoy it. We wait, and think of all the thirty-eleven other things we ought to be doing, but can’t because, you know, it’s Christmas, and this is just the way things are. We’re at church and we’re -- supposed to be still. And enjoy it. Even though we know the clock is tick-tick-ticking away those last precious minutes of preparation and the doggone minister is torturing us with what we already know can we please just cut to the chase?

Mary the mother-to-be of Jesus waited. Her cousin, Elizabeth, the mother-to-be of John the Baptist waited. To put it more precisely, they expected. They were expecting. And while it’s traditional to think of their expectation as a blissful duet of immaculate conception, there’s no reason to believe their waiting wasn’t as unremarkably human as that of any other mothers-to-be. Nausea, pain, cravings, moods that swing from Alpha to Omega…. It would be sweet to think that Mary and Elizabeth had it different from others of the female persuasion. It would be sweet – but not very realistic. In all likelihood, their waiting was filled with all the ups and downs, all the joys and irritations, and moreso, that have come to be associated with the Christmas season. And as with any other mothers-to-be, as their birth clocks were tick-tick-ticking away and their bodies held them captive to what they already knew, they would have been more than willing to ask God to cut to the chase.

Instead, God tells Mary and Elizabeth, and us – wait. Wait another 24 minutes. Wait another 24 hours. Wait another 24 moments of a while of a spell. Wait some undefined interval that makes no sense when you could be doing something else, when Jesus could just appear, full grown and Kingly. Wait. God told the world to wait – through all the Old Testament times. God told Mary and Elizabeth to wait – nine months and so many minutes and so many seconds (each of which pregnant women are keenly aware). There must be something special about waiting, because God asks us to do it so often. God will cut to the chase. But not yet.


It’s a figure of speech we don’t think much about. Cutting to the chase is born of 20th Century Hollywood. Whether it’s Laurel and Hardy racing a train, or Mel Gibson getting pulled over by the cops, the chase scene is the part to which a movie builds. Even “The Sound of Music” has a chase scene. The nuns steal the Nazis’ distributor cap (yea for the clergy!) and the Singing Von Trapps finally make it across the border. But cut to the chase too quickly, and the suspense never happens. You’ve got to have “A Few of My Favorite Things,” and “Edelweiss” and all those other great songs first. In order for the chase to work, we have to wait. (And Julie Andrews has to sing.)

The Gospel According to Luke is kind of like a movie-musical. Really. If you look at the text in your Bible, just before any great event ever happens in Luke, there’s a song. You can tell by the way the paragraphs shift into poetry-form. The characters, like Mary and Elizabeth, break into song in anticipation of whatever hair-raising miracle might be coming up next. So instead of, “Ouch, Elizabeth, I can’t wait for this baby named Jesus to be born,” we hear, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” The text today is a scene of joy, and the hills are alive with the sound of its music. There will be plenty of chases to come – Jesus will be chased out of cities, crowds will chase after his healing, the disciples will race to tell that he is risen – but before cutting to any of these chases, God is going to make Mary and Elizabeth – God is going to make us all – wait.


Each of us has our own personal Christmas story. If Hollywood made a movie of your last four weeks, how would it look? If Blockbuster had the DVD of your Christmas, would they put it under “Action/Adventure?” Or maybe, “Family Drama?” “Comedy?” Or, “Horror?” What would be the title of your holiday movie? “It’s a Wonderful Life”? Or, “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”? “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”? Or, “Home Alone”? Or, on the musical side, if you had to sing one song to describe your Christmas, what would it be? Did you ever notice how many Christmas songs are about waiting, about absence? “I’ll be home for Christmas, just you wait and see.” “I’m dreaming of a White Christmas.” Even, “All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth.” Waiting. Absence. No wonder people get melancholy this time of year. So many of our songs are about the emptiness of waiting.

How is your Christmas story going this year? Has the plot been filled with waiting? The question itself sounds so strange. How could anything be filled with waiting? We think of waiting as a time of absence – the blank tape when nothing’s on the screen, the skip at the end of the record. But God thinks of waiting differently. God intends waiting time to be fertile time. God isn’t a magician; In the Bible, God is a carpenter, God is a farmer, God is a fisherman. God in the Bible is a person who understands the fullness of waiting. As with Mary and Elizabeth, God enjoys the pregnant pause.

Poet Alice Meynell, who lived in turn of the (Twentieth) Century England, wrote

No sudden thing of glory and fear
Was the Lord's coming; but the dear
Slow Nature's days followed each other
To form the Saviour from his Mother
- One of the children of the year.

How many nights did the Wise Men follow the star? How many times had the shepherds fallen asleep gazing toward heaven, praying for a sign? As Mary rubbed her hand across her tummy, how many lullabies did she hum to her baby? Mary was literally filled with the Holy Spirit, but even she had to wait to see her Savior, to hold his hand, to teach him to speak, to watch him grow into a man. Instead of cutting to the chase, God fades in slowly. We become aware of God as we wait for God. We ask God to make our waiting a time of fullness, to use our waiting hours, to inch us forward, to guide each day so that it builds upon the next, so that our purpose on earth slowly, slowly grows toward its fulfillment. In these last waiting hours before Christmas, may we become aware of God’s presence. May we become aware of God’s fullness even in God’s silence. May we stop chasing after fulfillment. May we hear God’s heartbeat inside us. Lord, don’t cut out a thing. Help us to become more like Mary and Elizabeth. Help us to wait. Amen.