A little boy and his little sister were singing “Silent Night” in church the Sunday before Christmas. The boy concluded with the words, “sleep in heavenly beans.” His sister elbowed him, and said, “No. Not beans, peas!”
The way most of us feel by the time we are ready for Christmas, “Silent Night” might just as well end with beans or peas instead of peace. We get into such a frantic rush to get everything done, the peace of the season seems to elude us. But who told you the way to Christmas is to be without hassles?
Not a single Advent in my life could be described as “peaceful.” Born in a preacher’s home, Advent and Christmas – very much like Holy Week — were super-charged. Then forty years of active ministry –even more supercharged! Even now, as a part-time retiree, my December calendar looks like one of Sarah’s music books –hundreds of little white and black characters jumping like crazy up and down some fences.
Now some good news — I no longer must worry about baking cookies or finding the right tree with my kids or joining family meals without interfering with worship services or struggling with frightening words as “Some assembly required.” But I know that many of you are you already struggling with stuff like that, and perhaps much more than that.
I once noticed that a very active woman skipped our Advent services for no apparent reason, so after a couple of years I dared to ask her why. “Pastor,” she said, “Advent after Advent I feel so guilty, I am not doing all that you preach about – stop on your tracks, stand guard, watch, quiet down, listen to, pray, and have faith as Mary and Joseph lest you miss THE moment! I don’t want to hear that anymore!”
Advent and Christmas fatigue — no wonder on Christmas Eve we too may end up singing “heavenly beans,” or “heavenly peas” – anything but “heavenly peace.”
Hear some more good news, friends – don’t feel so bad or so guilty — after all, not even the first Advent-Christmas season was peaceful! The first hassle was Mary’s pregnancy. Joseph and Mary were sort of engaged but not officially married, so when Joseph found out about Mary’s pregnancy, he decided to call the whole thing off until an angel explained the situation.
Imagine the hassle Mary endured as an unwed mother, the hassle of a wedding, the whispers and guessing: why Joseph would do such a thing to a nice girl? But this hassle was just the beginning. Not long after their wedding, the emperor ordered every male Israelite to return to their birthplace and pay a new tax – a bill Joseph hadn’t planned on paying, a trip he hadn’t planned on making.
His bride was ready to give birth — now this extra expense and the trip they need to take. Joseph squeezed up the money and they traveled to Bethlehem, where they met another hassle: no room in the inn. With a wife about to give birth, Joseph settled for the only accommodations available: a stable. In that dirty stable surrounded by stinky animals and stinky shepherds, without a doctor, without a nurse, without an epidural, Mary gave birth, and everything was OK.
But not for long, for right after Jesus was born, a heavenly messenger told Joseph to run away for their lives, otherwise king Herod would murder their baby. How would you respond in this kind of situation? “Lord, enough is enough — why don’t you strike Herod with an aneurism, or a heart attack?”
But Joseph packed up his family, and hit the road to Egypt, where he would get a job and help Mary raise their baby in a rather hostile land. Over and over they endured hassle after hassle all for the sake of their child – and this was just the beginning.
Hassles and headaches, my friends, are such a part of life, we are very naive if we expect a single hour of our lives to be hassle-free. If we expect this holy season to be hassle-free — it was never that way for Mary and Joseph, neither it was for Jesus –and it is never that way with God!
So don’t feel guilty that this holy season is coming at you like a freight train! Instead, rejoice that God has given you two extra eyes, and two extra hands, and two extra brains, and two extra feet to cope with your extra hassles.
Didn’t God send angels to Joseph and Mary to explain what he was doing? Didn’t God provide extra funds for them to make it to Bethlehem and even to pay for the stable when nothing else was available? Didn’t God send some wise men who were wise enough not to report back to the king?
Well – our Gracious God does the same today for us too! All we must do is to trust, to believe the way Mary and Joseph did — that God would always provide them with extra help to deal with their hassles, their fears, their dilemmas, and their weakness.
Not long before his death in 1996, Henri Nouwen, the Dutch-born Catholic priest whose spirituality touched so many lives, published Sabbatical Journeys. In this book Nouwen tells us about the Flying Roundellas, friends of his who were trapeze artists.
One of the things Nouwen learned from the Roundellas was that there is a special relationship between the flyer and the catcher on the trapeze –“The flyer is the one who let’s go, and the catcher is the one who catches.” As the flyer swings on the trapeze high above the crowd, the moment comes when she must let go. She flings her body out in mid-air, and her job is to keep flying and wait for the strong hands of the catcher to take hold of her at just the right moment.
“The flyer must never try to catch the catcher,” Nouwen learned, “rather wait in absolute trust.” The catcher will catch her, but she must wait. Our Advent season ought to be a time to reclaim this truth–the truth that it is not our job to catch God, but rather wait expectantly and faithfully for God to catch us.
Friends, you must believe God is going to do it again. So do wait with patience and do it with a deep sense of expectation and thanksgiving. And when you begin to realize that the holy season – very much like all the other seasons of life — is full of hassles, remember that God is full of help and joy.
You may not be able to stop and do the expected spiritual centering and be properly rested for the big moment, yet our good, sweet God understands whether you sing “beans” or “peas,” for God certainly knows what you mean, what you wish, what you need, and what you truly believe — hassles or not!