A few weeks into the new year and we find that the trials and sufferings of 2020 have not magically disappeared. And yet, I do not know why they would. We hope that as 2021 continues the challenges will be tamed. But how does that happen? I think this reading from John gives us some further insight.
Cancer is just a word until it comes close. Until a doctor says the biopsy was positive and you know it has invaded part of your body, it is just a word. Until you hold the hand of your beloved feeling helpless, trying to imagine the road ahead, cancer is a distant tragedy suffered by others. Until you bear the title “survivor,” and cancer is an indelible word tattooed in your very being, cancer can be rather abstract. Cancer is a terrifying word that nurtures fears of pain, suffering and death.
I’ve been thinking about a MASH episode lately. It takes place between two New Year’s Eve celebrations held in 1950 & 1951. Col. Sherman T. Potter, dressed as Father Time, says “Here's to the New Year. May she be a damn sight better than the old one, and may we all be home before she's over.” In real life, it would take two more toasts to see things end in 1953. Time and fate are fickle things.
There’s a tradition at Christmastime that seems as though it’s been around forever, and it actually does go back centuries (I don’t know how many). It’s the tradition of telling the story of Christmas through actors. It’s called the Christmas play! This year, that tradition won’t be as wide-spread as normal. If it does happen, it will not be in a normal sense. Regardless of the changes happening this year, a Christmas play is a tradition that nearly all Christians have come to know.
One of the small challenges I face before Christmas is where to put the Christmas tree. Every year I commit to finding a better spot to raise the artificial greens, and every year it lands back where it was erected the year before. The problem is that our living room was not constructed to hold one more thing. The room is filled. One more item, like a Christmas tree, adds to a sense of clutter. The tree is beautiful; it’s what occupies the rest of the landscape that creates the problem. Making room is not easy.
The other day, Vicar Matt and I were discussing how the long journey with Covid-19 is affecting people. Many of us seem to be sinking deeper into a funk that expresses the loss, loneliness, chaos, and uncertainty of each day. There seems to be a cumulative toll being taken as we slog forward, now hoping a vaccination will bring the nightmare to an end. Our discussion was about how we might help people deal with this accumulation of emotional plaque in our hearts and souls.
Our theme for Advent this year is, “It’s About Time.” Advent is a season where we look back to the promises of God fulfilled eventually (don’t rush here) in the birth of Jesus. We look ahead to the time when Jesus Christ will come again to bring the process of New Creation to its consummation. Advent is about waiting with hope and patience for that time to come. Advent is about the present time of preparation for the way Christ comes to us every day, every hour. It’s about time.
I know that many of us have good memories of Thanksgiving. Some years might not have been so great or were downright difficult. Others leave many good memories. New marriages, new babies, new jobs, and all those other “new” life changes can be a rallying point to bring people closer together and recognize the relationships they cherish. Family feuds, partisan politics, issues related to money, and more can cause rifts to form between clans within a family. Some Thanksgivings are full of joy and gratitude. Others leave us unsatisfied and unthankful.
It seems to me that we are all getting a little irritable, a little cranky, about this whole pandemic thing.
We can pretend it is no threat or just yell at the virus and everything else. These, however, seem… well, unfruitful, shall I say? There is an answer that rises from faith, but if you’re like me, you may not like it.
You sit in the optometrist’s chair and they say, “A or B?” as they flip lenses. The choice is binary, one or the other. You cannot pick both. You cannot say, “Neither.” When our son was young, we learned never to ask open ended questions like, “What vegetable do you want for dinner?” We said, “Peas or green beans?” Our whole data driven world is binary – ones or zeros. Binary choice. We humans like binary choices.