Monday Morning, December 17, 2007
This is the season of hopes and dreams and anticipation and wonder. The demands and the busyness (I wonder if the words are related – business and busyness) certainly are effective deterrents to the realization of the ideals we embrace. We can sing all the familiar songs, sit long enough to go through all the classic movies, sip on holiday nog or Grog, light the candles, gather in a candlelit house of worship – and still miss it.
That doesn’t keep us from trying. We hear all the warnings – but they have little effect. The clichés all roll past us like the morning SIG alerts. They are our year-end bumper stickers. Don’t forget “the real meaning of Christmas.” “The reason for the season.” “Keep Christ in Christmas.” “Don’t get caught up in commercialism.” “Christmas has its roots in ancient paganism.”
You can hear them coming. The Christmas cops. Those who indulge in these well-worn platitudes seem to think they originated them. Are the bromides just expected? Do they make us sound clever? Maybe a good old fashioned scolding is what we need.
But I don’t think it works very well. Predictable complaints about missing the point of Christmas don’t have much effect, really.
So I’m left to wonder. What is it that cuts through the noise and penetrates our hearts? Charles Dickens wondered, too. Ebenezer Scrooge was born. Frank Capra pondered the thought. George Bailey was born. In 1983 Jean Shepherd thought about it too; Ralphie Parker was born.
I think it has something to do with longing. The human heart is capable of many things. Among the most powerful is longing. Pastor Steve posed the question to a packed chapel this week. When you were young, what did you long for as a child? Not just a wish. Or a fantasy hope. A longing. A genuine, bona fide longing. You wanted it so badly you could feel it. Can you remember?
Young Ralphie Parker (A Christmas Story, 1983) longed for a Red Ryder BB gun. His mother said absolutely not, “You’ll shoot your eye out.” Jean Shepherd’s tongue-in-cheek yarn has experienced a come-back of sorts since it was first released well over twenty years ago. A pioneer in radio talk shows, Shepherd’s edgy comedy didn’t break into mainstream, until now. The irreverent independent movie has achieved near cult status. With spectacles that pre-dated Harry Potter, Ralphie’s longing for the BB gun drove every line, every scene of the entire film.
I tried to recall a gift so important to me. In my aging mind, those elementary school days in a small mid-western town exist in a misty long ago. I do remember a Roy Rogers twin holster with dual silver pistols, pearl white handles and each with a revolving barrel and hammer that popped and smoked on a red roll of caps. It was my Christmas wish. I dreamed of it from Thanksgiving to Christmas. Me and Ralphie. A shared longing. And on Christmas Day, there it was. Joy to the world!
Longing. As we grow up, those longings change. They mature. I remember when I courted Carolyn how I would sit there in my dorm room and stare at her portrait on my dresser – filled with longing. Later, I recall the two of us, wondering if we would ever be parents, and together we longed for a child.
Not all longings are healthy. We can long for the very things that will do us in. Take us out. We call them obsessions. But in the best sense, longings motivate us. They focus us. They energize us. If dreams are going to come true, it’s because the longing within us pushed us in the direction of those dreams. Those longings governed our choices, they cultivated the disciplines, and they got us over the barriers.
Can God use longing?
So Pastor Steve drew us in. The whole nation of Israel longed for the day when Messiah would appear. A Savior. Emmanuel. God with us. There was a heart full of yearning.
It informed their prayers. It peaked anticipation. So in the fullness of time, when he came, a humble baby in the manger, “the hopes and fears of all the years… were met.”
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On this Monday morning, you are a leader. Do you possess a longing? Is there a yearning – a yearning for something more?
It’s the kind of child-like yearning that gets expressed on Santa’s knee. A fire engine. A tow truck. A Red Ryder BB gun. A two story doll house. But this is only a hint of the yearnings to come in a grown-up heart.
It’s a yearning for Emmanuel. The anticipation of a Savior. Hope for a world that longs for peace.
It’s in the longing that we find the meaning.
Be still just long enough to feel it.
Copyright Kenneth E Kemp, 2007