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Advent 4A Isaiah 7:10-14 / Romans 1:7 / Matthew 1 :18-24   

 

Want to hear a crazy—

crazy story?

 

Back in 2007,

a young man named Matt

from Oregon decided to

have his buddies over and

do a little drinking.

 

As often happens in these situations—

as the evening progressed—

the inhibitions—

the reasoning of Matt and his buddies

became weaker and weaker.

 

And Matt started wanting to show off a little.

 

So he took his drinking buddies

into his bedroom to show them his pet.

 

His pet lived in an aquarium.

 

It was a diamond back rattlesnake.

 

By this time, Matt’s inhibitions

were essentially non-existent.

 

So Matt reached into the aquarium

and picked up his pet diamondback rattler—

handling it like a worshipper from one

those snake handling churches in Eastern Kentucky.

 

Well his buddies all jumped away from

Matt and his pet diamond back rattlesnake.

 

But they were impressed—

they were really impressed.

 

Now you can tell where this story is going.

 

But it’s worse than what you’re thinking.

 

Matt decided—

with a little coaxing

from his drunk and impressed drinking buddies—

to put the rattlesnake’s head in his mouth.

 

You can’t make this up—

this is even beyond the actions of a

character in one of a Flannery O’Conner short stories.

 

A reporter from an Oregon TV station

interviewed Matt about the incident—

 

Matt said, “Me, being me,

I put the snake’s head in my mouth.”

 

Well, his buddies were sober enough to call 911—

and Matt barely made it to the hospital in time

before his airway became completely

swollen shut from the venomous bites of

the rattlesnake.

 

He was in a coma for three days.

 

He admitted to the reporter that the

incident was—

well-

“kind of” his “own stupid fault.”                                [KGW-TV (Portland, Ore.), 9-18-07]

 

Well, he got that right.

 

As I have reflected this story—

it’s message seems clear.

 

Things can go terribly wrong

if we forget the basics—

if we forget the fundamentals . . . .

 

Like Matt forgetting the basic

fundamentals of pet ownership.

 

First, don’t own a pet that can kill you.

 

Second, if you do own a dangerous pet,

don’t be drinking with your buddies

and fooling around with it. . . .

 

And third,

if you happen to find yourself in

the position of holding a live—

poisonous snake—

don’t put its head in your mouth.

 

Nothing—

Nothing good is going to come from this.

 

That’s some of the basics—

some of the fundamentals of pet ownership.

 

Don’t forget the basics.

 

And this principle applies not just to pet ownership—

it applies to just about everything. . . .

 

And it applies to our spiritual life—

and it applies to Christmas.

 

With so much going on in our lives,

especially now,

right before Christmas,

with all the hustle and bustle,

it is so easy for us to lose our focus—

it’s easy for us to become distracted—

it’s easy to forget about the basics.

 

Maybe that’s why the first line of

today’s Advent Gospel reading is

“this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.”

 

It’s there to refocus us right before Christmas.

 

I took my mom shopping on Friday—

and it was a little crazy out there. . . .

 

people are driving crazy—

people are parking crazy—

people are spending a crazy—

and people are acting a little crazy.

I called an old college friend this week to

check in and see how he was doing.

 

There was an exasperated tone in his voice.

 

He said,

for 30 straight days—

30straight days—

he and/or his wife

had done something to “prepare” for Christmas.

 

All the shopping. . . .

 

All the parties. . . .

 

All the decorating. . . .

 

He ended by saying,

“I hate Christmas.”

 

When we forget the basics. . . .

 

And what are the basics?

 

God is love—

and God loved us—

each and every one of us into being.

 

And all of our family and friends

that we enjoy celebrating with—

God loved them into being too. . . .

 

They are all God’s gift to us.

 

And because God loves us—

God gave us freedom.

 

And all we have to do is to look at human history—

 

All we have to do is to look around at the present state of things—

 

All we have to do is to be honest with ourselves—

to realize that things aren’t quite right with us or

with our world.

 

And all we have to do use our reason to

discover that we are finite human beings—

that we can’t fix it all.

 

And being created in the image and likeness of God—

we humans yearn for more—

we yearn for the transcendence—

we yearn for infinity.

 

But because of our finitude—

we can’t save ourselves—

we can’t give ourselves infinity.

 

So in short—

with our history—

and with our desired destiny—

we need a Savior.

 

So because God’s loves so much—

God develops a plan—

a mission to save us. . . .

a rescue mission with a Savior.

 

So God’s Son becomes human. . . .

 

there’s the incarnation—

 

then there’s the birth of the Savior—

 

And then there’s the life of the Savior who

shows us how to live a joyful and

truly fulfilling life that goes beyond ourselves—

 

a truly fulfilling life that extends up to God—

and extends out to our neighbors—

and to creation itself.

 

And then there’s the suffering and death of the Savior—

the perfect combination of God’s

infinite justice and infinite mercy—

 

that perfect combination that rights

the relationship between God and humanity. . . .

 

Now eternal life with God is possible.

And the rescue mission continues with the Ascension—

 

And the Pentecost—

the sending of the Holy Spirit—

to lead us and guide us

and to help us to lead

that fulfilling life which transcends ourselves.

 

And there will be a final day—

a last finite day—

when the infinite God will draw all things to himself.

 

That’s the basics.

That’s the fundamentals.

That’s what we can’t forget.

 

And it’s so much more exciting—

And so much more interesting—

And so much more joyful and hopeful

than anything a secular Christmas can offer.

 

And to forget the basics

leads us down a dangerous and

poisonous serpentine path—

 

a path that leads us away from origin—

and away form our destiny

 

And we humans have an ancient and

dreadful—

dreadful—

history with snakes.

 

And you know—

with that freedom that God gave us—

we have the freedom to focus our attention on

anything we want.

 

And God knows how curious we are—

God created us that way

so that our curiosity would lead us to Him.

 

But with that curiosity—

we can become easily  distracted.

 

 

I think that is why our first image of

the invisible God is the image of baby.

 

A little newborn baby. . .

 

so soft—

and so beautiful—

and so helpless—

peaceful at times—

and crying for our attention at times.

 

A little newborn baby has a way like no other

of grabbing our attention—

and keeping us focused—

keeping us focused on the basics.

 

“This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.”

 

Holy Spirit 12/21-22/2019