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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Are You Prepared?

When did it hit you on Thursday? Was it before dessert, or after? You know what I'm talking about -- that moment when you absolutely cannot stuff another morsel of anything in your mouth -- when you wonder why in the world you ate that much, and now you're just miserable. Or was it, as threatened to be the case in our kitchen, when everyone has arrived and there's no room on the counter tops for more food and there are too many people in the kitchen and everything is ready at the same time except that you forgot to mash to potatoes and there's no place to do it? Maybe it was later -- at some point during the third consecutive blow-out football game when Uncle Bob is passed out on the couch, snoring -- and you're wondering why you didn't take a walk around the block instead of watching three games you care nothing about. Or maybe it was Friday when you went to the Mall to see how good the specials were, and you were lost in a sea of humanity pushing and shoving each other in the true Spirit of Christmas.

During Holy Week in Jerusalem, Jesus reacts to people marveling at the beauty of the Temple. "The time is coming," Jesus tells them, "when there won't be one Temple stone still standing on another. It's all going to be destroyed." "When?" they ask. Then Jesus tells them what's coming -- wars and insurrections, earthquakes, persecution, signs in the stars and the oceans, and the coming of a messianic figure in the clouds. Pay attention, Jesus says, because it's all coming soon.

Pay attention. Be Prepared, Boy and Girl Scouts would say. Then, in verse 34, Jesus gets specific about how to be prepared: Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. I know what drunkenness is -- I did go to UVa. I know too well what the worries of this life are. What, I wondered, is dissipation? The Greek word here is kripale. This is the only place in the Bible it appears. It's a word that is usually used in Greek medical texts of the ancient world, and means the nausea that follows drunkenness. Jesus says, don't let your hearts be hung over.

What a great text for the Sunday after Thanksgiving and Black Friday. You don't have to have consumed any alcohol to answer the question how many of us the last four days experienced having our hearts weighed down with nausea following excessive consumption? Indeed, how better to describe the whole season between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day as the nausea that follows overindulgence?

Isn't that also what we've been experiencing in our economy the last year -- nausea following overindulgence? Tom Brokaw has a series on TV following Rt. 50 across the country, from Ocean City to Sacramento. This week he profiled a couple and their son, who live in Nevada and are struggling to make ends meet. When times were good, they bought a four-bedroom house, new cars, and maxed out their credit cards. The husband lost his job, and now they're in big trouble. They're experiencing kripale. The environment -- the sky, the soil, the waters -- is experiencing kripale. We live in a kripalic culture, that runs on excessive consumption and even feeds on the attendant nausea. Hung over? No problem. That's what Alka-Seltzer, or credit counseling, or liposuction are all about.

There's an Eastern Shore expression for having eaten too much: I've run aground. It means that your boat is stuck in water that's too shallow, and you can't move. Running aground is dangerous, because if the wind begins to blow, the waves will beat a grounded boat to pieces. When our hearts and lives are weighed down by excess and worry, Jesus says, then we are in danger of destruction. We can't escape.

How do we avoid kripale? It's a no-brainer: don't eat, drink, spend, fret, do, and worry so much. Let me invite you to Advent: Winter Lent. The tactic of the world is to get us to overindulge and over spend and overdo for the next month. The result, year after year after year, is kripale. We collapse at the end under a mountain of fat and bills and junk, and then wonder where the manger was. Look at today's gospel: we can't respond to God's nimble, surprising, and subtle movements in the world if we're groaning in dissipation. Because we're so numbed by this season, we can't notice anything unless it hits us like a two by four. Like any addict, we require larger and larger stimuli to notice anything. But that's not how God works, and it's not how love works. The Messiah comes to a barn in an obscure village, and the only people who notice are shepherds out on a hill and foreign astrologers looking for signs.

I know you're not going to do this, but I'm going to preach it anyhow. Spend the next four weeks making room, not accumulating and buying. Use the bulletin insert with your family or just yourself to spend time in silence, reading scripture, and praying. Instead of buying junk for people you love, give them memories. Spend time with people. Give the gift of yourself instead of something made in China and bought in a store. Go see the Christmas lights at Lewis Ginter. Make a special food together. Go see the Nutcracker, or a Christmas concert. Help the homeless here Christmas week. Visit someone you haven't seen in a long time, and take them something special, or invite them to your house or to a concert. Wait until Christmas week to decorate your house. Eat less, not more. Buy less, not more. Take the clothes you don't wear and the toys you don't play with to the Salvation Army or Goodwill. Read a book together as a family. Make some room in your life.

We live in a kripalic culture and have just entered the most kripalic season of the year. Last week I told you that Jesus' kingdom is not from this world, and to stop living like we're from here. Unless we painfully and deliberately do otherwise, we're going to run aground on the dissipation and drunkenness of this culture and this world. We don't have to live that way. We don't have to be numb. We really can pay attention, but only if we support each other in the effort, and take very deliberate steps to live and act otherwise. I invite you to Advent: a time to slow down, clear out, and make room for God to be born in the mangers of your hearts. But I absolutely guarantee that if you buy, literally, into the excess of this season, there will be no room in the inn.

Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.

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