Sermon – November 30, 2003 – Peaceful Path

I came upon a bit of odd news the other day. People are healthier in

bad economic times. Good health declines in good economic times. An

economist named Christopher Ruhm did a study that showed that the death

rate dropped in states where the unemployment rates went up. And then

he found that when people went back to work, there was an associated

increase in homicides, traffic accidents, deaths from heart disease, flu

and pneumonia.

Fact is that when times are good, people indulge more, their pace is

faster. They eat more, drink more booze, travel more, and generally put

themselves more in harm’s way. Good times can sometimes be hazardous

to our health.

Christmas is one of our good times. I bring this up to remind us that

overindulgence of any kind can be hazardous to our health, something

especially to be aware of as we begin this December countdown of Advent

through Christmas. We know that over eating and over drinking is

harmful to us . . . but so is over indulgence in shopping, spending and too

many holiday activities packed into too little time. Ann, Sophie and

I slipped out Friday morning to get a bargain on shoes. By then the

roads were crowded and the mall parking lots full. The pathway to

Christmas paradise. We need to heed, in this season, the words of the

psalmist, “Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me

in your truth.” To focus ourselves on the great gift that awaits the

world in the manger.

This has always been a busy time and it has always been our call and

challenge not to succumb to it. And I mean always. Christmas was

laid over a Roman festival of Saturnalia in the 4th century, trying to

to counter that festival’s excess of feasting and drinking. . . but we

apparently picked up a little of the old ways.

Even in this country in the 17th century, the great puritan preacher

Cotton Mather railed against the excesses of Christmas, even tried to

have it banned as a holiday. He complained of the “Reveling, Diceing,

Carding, Masking and all Licentious Liberty,” Christmas season behavior

he complained that was more to the liking of hell than heaven.

An old complaint, but it raises again an appropriate observation . . .

that other gods take over in this season, for us, mainly the god of

consumerism. Ironically, that god is dressed up in the guise of the

virtue of generosity. But maybe there are some alternate ways we can

express this generosity, that we can express this tradition of sharing, mark

this joy, than the painful and draining rush to please everyone with

everything.

It’s worth wondering about because the old ways are stressful. All

this urgency builds up our stress. . . yes even Christmas registers

significantly on the stress scale. We’ve talked together before about the

Life Changes Index, which measures the stress of certain events in our

lives. Certain events are assigned a value and if events accumulate to

a total of more than 300 points, you are having enough stress to affect

your good health. For example, the death of a spouse gets 100 points,

divorce 73, marital separation 65, no surprises here . . . but, good

stuff brings on stress, too. Getting married, 50 points. (that all?),

gaining a new family member, 39, vacation, 13 points. . . . and

Christmas, 12 points.

The message of Advent has much to do with the quality of our waiting.

This is a time to remember that we wait with joy and anticipation, with

discipline and some discernment. Not in fear, not in resentment, but

in holy expectation. Why else would Jesus say, “when you see these

signs, raise your heads because your redemption is drawing near.” As we

prepare to celebrate the birth of the one who has borne our redemption

into the world, let’s practice a quality, joyful waiting. So what do

you say we reduce stress this season . . take a little of the load off,

so we can better celebrate the one who was born to bear our load.

Lots of folks these days are reducing that rush and expense and

distraction by opting for alternative gifts. One of my favorites is the

coupon book.

Kids, you can do this for your parents. Make a little coupon book,

sign it, paint flowers on it, whatever, staple it together, but in it

write promises. . . I promise to clean my room, I promise to rake the

lawn, to get up on time for school, as a gift to you Mom and Dad.

Adults, the coupon book is a great gift for another because you can

respond to their specific needs the way the mall can’t. Things like

back rubs, foot rubs, walks, dates to the movies and dancing. Make a

coupon that says you will cook his or her favorite food. Make a coupon

that says I will say I love you on every day that ends in Y. Make a

coupon saying you will pray together, worship together. These things

recognize relational things, respond to them in kind. They give of your

heart, and not your pocketbook. This is good.

You have a chance to provide something for a needy child through the

Adopt a child names in the narthex. This may be the only gift that

child gets. And you can be the one who did it. . . use your

imagination, consider the difference you might make. Give it in the name of one

of your children, or a friend.

There is always the Heifer project, which our Sunday school kids are

doing again this year. For 40 or 50 bucks, you can start a poor family

somewhere on the road to independence buy purchasing for them some

chickens, little ducks, a calf, or some other form of livestock. These

animals serve as breeding stock and pretty soon, because of your gift, a

family’s life can turn around. You can save lives. Check out the

display in the narthex for more information.

Set limits on your spending. . . then give a percentage of what you

saved to your church or favorite cause. Do that with your children.

All these things focus on the needs, and not necessarily the wants of

the world. A familiar lesson which we model from Scripture . . . the

people of Jesus’ time wanted a king. God gave us what we needed, a

baby in a manger. . . . they wanted a military leader . . . God gave us

what we needed, a suffering servant . . .

So, take a little more time to pray, to reflect on this, to pray. . .

for others. . . for peace. . . in thankfulness for this season . . .

for the coming together of friends and family . . . for the patience to

wait in hopeful expectation for the coming of the Lord. . . . pray a

little more.

Expectation, giving of ourselves, living compassionately, praying

more.. . . remembering our Lord provides for our needs, not necessarily our

wants. . . could this not be the path which we pray with the Psalmist

that the Lord would provide for us, “show me your ways, O Lord, and

teach me your paths?” Focusing more on activities than acquisitions,

maybe we will arrive at Christmas this year feeling some energy rather than

exhaustion, with the peace of the gift of God, rather than the drained

feeling that ‘finally, it’s over’…..

Maybe this year the holiday won’t be hazardous to our health, but

healing to our hearts. . . . Amen

Copyright (c) 2003 by Pastor Robert J. Rasmus