One of the things that they talk about in seminaries, apart from all of the big, thick theological words that they throw around quite a lot, is the intersection between the already and the not yet.
It sounds abstract but really it’s pretty easy. We are already saved, we are not yet perfect. We are already children of God; we are not yet truly good children.
It is the conundrum of living in faith, to be honest. Once your child is born, you are already a parent, but since there is no comprehensive training for being a parent, you are not yet a really good one, not yet.
You have to jump in and get the job done. Parent, spouse, friend, all of these and more are the stuff of living and you just start and allow on the job training to take care of the specifics.
It is how jobs, even high-level jobs used to be, once upon a time. A company would take you on and then they would teach you the job you were to be doing. High School taught you how to write and do math, college taught you how to be a critical thinker and your employer then took your well-prepared mind and taught it what it needed to know to do the job at hand.
I think only attorneys have the same system nowadays in most of the world. Law school teaches you the law, a firm teaches you how to be an attorney. Most of the rest of the world now thinks that it is the job’s place to pay you and it is the school’s place to teach you how.
Once upon a time when you entered the job you were “not yet”, nowadays they expect you to be “already.”
No wonder there is so much criticism leveled against education these days, what with the shifting expectations, the shifting of job training from the private to the public sector. I imagine that it is now the colleges in America which find themselves not “already” anymore.
But for us we are living in the already and the not yet every day. Especially now, during Advent it is all the more poignant. We are awaiting the messiah that most of us already believe in, we are looking for the Christ child who has already found us and somehow trying to make this a season of anticipation after living through it for many years.
We are looking forward to something we already have and that is weird.
I mean, it’s no wonder how easy it is for us to fall into the commercialism and shallow end of the season, to make it about presents and food instead of about family and God. That’s what the outside world wants, they want to sell us a merry Christmas, or a happy holidays if you prefer because that’s what they do, and you cannot blame them for it, they were already that way and once upon a time, we were not yet that way.
So anticipation is hard because as we mentioned last week, Thanksgiving is over and that means it’s Christmas and that is the only holiday for which that is true, after all, when Christmas is over it doesn’t automatically become Easter, the next big commercial holiday does it? No, it becomes Epiphany, a terrific and much less celebrated holiday, why? Because the traditional Epiphany gift is a book since it is the season of the coming of wisdom and books are so-o-o-o-o-o passé these days, besides, the days when you could effectively commercialize a book are long past, we are on to the next big thing, the next thing of any size, so long as it is the next thing, Thanksgiving is over and it is already Christmas.
The urge is to fight back, isn’t it? You see those bumper stickers that read “Jesus is the reason for the season, with the clever little rhyme there to let you know that the person who has this sticker on their car is not just a Christian, but a clever Christian. You hear Bill O’Reilly going on about the war on Christmas and calling for a boycott on places that won’t accede to your demands for them to wish you a Merry Christmas during December.
I’m not picking on Bill, it’s just that he is so the poster boy for that way of thinking. I am sure that he would have been horrified if he had been driving along highway 116 past Harmony Farms in Sebastopol the other day as I was when I saw the sign there advertising “seasonal conifers” and I thought that perhaps we had gotten quite close enough to the abyss and maybe ought to take a step of two back.
We think we ought to fight back because that is the history of Christianity, really, when it has been under assault by forces great and small outside of the faith, it has rallied and grown and strengthened itself.
During the persecutions of the early church the faithful demonstrated their resolve and people flocked to such a display of strength. During the plagues Christians survived in greater numbers because they would not abandon their families and instead nursed them and cared for them and some of them got better and people saw and believed and so the faith grew.
Under pressure, Christianity is a pretty potent force, so naturally the tendency would be to fight, to push back, to rail against the forces of darkness and to prevail in the name of Christ.
The problem is, for me at least, that Christianity is not under assault from without, It is under assault from within and all of the things that we are trying to do to protect the sanctity of the holiday, the Holy day, is feeding the beast that consumes us, after all, someone wants seven dollars for the “Christ is the reason for the season” bumper sticker.
Maybe instead of expending a lot of energy and hope and heart in fighting an implacable enemy called the dollar, we’d spend our time a little better making spirits bright like the song says, not shouting about Christmas but singing about it, sharing it instead of demanding that it be shared with us.
Once upon a time people wrote Christmas cards and some people still do but they are a shrinking minority. But think on that for a moment, think about receiving a Christmas card instead of about sending one. When we didn’t have instant contact with anyone around the world, when we didn’t have Skype and Whatsapp to text with family and friends across the world, we had letters and it was not the information contained within them that made them special, it was the notion that someone cared enough about us to send us something, to put in the effort, just to make us smile, just to say hello, I love you, Merry Christmas.
It’s not as if we do not have access to that feeling nowadays. First of all, I heartily encourage all of you to send Christmas Cards, and if you are feeling particularly saucy about it, to post one on the window outside here and have it included in the Congregational Christmas Card, let the people of Faith Lutheran know how you feel about them at this time of year, and at every time of the year.
But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves here; we all know that the Christmas Card thing is a hard nut to crack, especially if, like me, you want to say something meaningful to each recipient. You could do a family newsletter; that was popular for a while. I personally don’t like them, but then I’m a little scrooge-ish at times. If you wanted me to know about your life, then write me a letter at another time, call me on the phone and we’ll talk.
The Carnahan household is not shy about talking on the phone, trust me, or on Skype or on any other medium. So why intrude on Christmas with news of Johnny’s new job? Or the puppy’s health issues?
It doesn’t really matter to me what method you use to reach out and wish someone the peace of Christ in this season of Christ.
You already know how good it feels, you just haven’t yet figured out how to do it.
I imagine God, all three of God, wondering what to do with this nasty, recalcitrant humanity that had been created. Sending down the rules didn’t seem to work, it was already God’s will that all should know God and in so doing be set free from the foibles of humanity, but it was not yet in place, there was no bridge to bring blessings to the earth, and rap the harvest of humanity.
Jesus was already the Son of God and not yet the Son of Man, not yet the messiah.
Imagine all of the people who had ever lived, stack them up, put them behind some enormous dam and have the only real guidance that people have ever followed, be fruitful and multiply, making more and more people every day and there being no solution to bring them home, there being no pathway for them to follow and then imagine that you know the solution to the problem.
You know that you can bring them all home, you know that simply by reaching out in love you can uncork the logjam and let blessedness flow like a mighty river sweeping up all in its path.
Why would you wait?
You have that dam within you. It is the world of God held back for whatever reason, pressing outward because that is what the word of god does, it seeks to be set free, to be let out of our hearts and our mouths and our pens and our fingers in a thousand, thousand different ways, it is the power of God for salvation and keeping it locked up in our hearts is like trying to hold back the tide with a broom.
You have already known all year that this power lies within you and for whatever reason, we as a people have conspired to concentrate it into this one season, we have not yet let it loose.
Well, in the face of the commercialism of Christmas, in the face of all of the cries to go back, back to a simpler era and to return to our roots and our traditions, maybe instead of lashing out against the culture that surrounds us we should instead reach out with the only thing that can stand against anything.
Something you are already familiar with but have not yet let loose.
I was thinking about texting, randomly, the people I know and love with Christmas messages, short, loving expressions of God’s grace as I have come to know it. It might sound like some kind of accommodation of moderns times but that is only because it is.
“thinking of you, wishing you the blessings of Christ this Christmas”
Why it is we wait for this time of year to let fly with messages of love I will never know. Why we have participated in the decline in the actual meaning of Christmas amongst the presents and the parties with such joy and abandon is also a mystery.
How to get back is easier than some folks might want you to believe. You already know how, you knew in June and you will still know in February. We have the already part taken care of.
Now to finish off the “not yet” part and show Christ in our hearts at this time of difficult anticipation, crass commercialization, epic rationalizations, angry remonstrations and hopefully, (dare we hope?) Holy celebrations.
Text someone, write someone, call someone. When you receive a Christmas Card, think about how nice it feels to be thought of and remembered and then pass that feeling along.
Christ is in the season when the Body of Christ remembers His Holy Name and shares it with the ones they love. If in 2015 the way of the Lord hasn’t been pretty well laid out, then we should get right to work because the Kingdom of God has already come near but there are those who have not yet heard.