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December 11, 2005 (Advent III)
Intern Pastor Joshua Graber
Isaiah 61:1-4,8-11; I Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28
Rejoice, and give thanks in all circumstances!!!
I'd like to remind you that this could be one of those circumstances! Can you people rejoice for me just a little bit? Seriously, go ahead!
Okay, how about just a smile from you folks? Could everybody smile up at me for just a second. C'mon everybody smile. Well, that's a good start. We're on our way to rejoicing!
I appreciate you doing that for me, because I need it! You see, this last week one of the pastors at our island colleagues' meeting brought in some information about "emotional contagion" theory.
Have you heard about this before?
It's the theory that you reflect the emotions of the people you're around. It also means that just the physical possibility of laughter or a smile can change the way you look at the world.
They actually did a study, recently, where they had people read a comic. Half of the people reading the comic were asked to read it while having a pen in their mouth. And just that little bit of extra physical help toward a smile changed the way people reacted to what they read. Those who read the comic with a pen in their mouth were far more likely to see the what they read as funny and see the experience as enjoyable.
They also did studies about how we react to others, based on their moods. A good mood can pass from one person to another. So can a bad mood.
In this world, we are surrounded by people that are going through great difficulties, and we constantly hear bad news broadcast to us--and often we are the ones going through difficulties. Sometimes the world can seem very dark. We can sometimes feel that we are surrounded in darkness.
Those of you from the Midwest may be able to relate to this feeling of being surrounded by darkness better than people that have lived on the island. Here on the island, I am struggling to understand that Christmas is coming. Here on the island, while days get a little shorter, there is much less change during winter months than we experience on the mainland. When I think of how early it gets dark there, during this time of year, I remember it being quite depressing to be surrounded in darkness as soon as you get off the bus from school, or get off work to go home. That darkness can feel quite oppressive.
It's in remembering this context that the ministry of John the Baptist and the Advent season become more powerful to me. John says he is testifying to "the coming light." How do you recognize the light without something to compare it to? Sometimes being familiar with greater contrasts help us understand this message more.
Here in Hawaii you don't have as many stark contrasts between seasons. Though many of you try to convince me that there are! So that is why I think you should all go see the new movie The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. Many of you are probably familiar with this story. It is a story of contrasts. Of dark and light. And it is the story of "emotional contagions" that I think we Christians can learn from.
The story of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe begins in a time of great darkness in our world's history. The Nazis have taken over much of Europe, and they are bombing England heavily, in what was known as "the blitz." It was a time of great darkness in many ways. English citizens were told to turn out their lights during bombings so that the German bombers would have fewer targets to see below them. These people that needed hope desperately were told to live in darkness. They needed to find new hope elsewhere.
Amid this setting four English children are evacuated out of the city and into the country to stay at the house of an old professor. In this house the youngest sibling finds a wardrobe that ends up taking them to a new and fascinating land. Narnia is a magnificent land full of talking animals and great beauty, but in the absence of its good king, Aslan, it has been taken over by a cruel master, named the White Witch.
She rules by taking away the good creatures of Narnia's hope. She has wrapped the land in a winter without spring. They live in a land that has little to celebrate. In fact, they haven't had a Christmas in a hundred years. The creatures live in darkness and fear of the White Witch. If the White Witch is informed of any creature's rebellion against her rule, she uses her icy staff to turn them into stone. And there they stand as symbols to the rest of the creatures in Narnia. Their last expressions before meeting this fate are frozen in time. Because of this most of these faces are frozen in expressions of fear or pain. The White Witch understood "emotional contagions" and tried to spread the emotion of fear through this terrible propaganda.
But the creatures somehow hold out hope and the young human children that enter into this land carry that hope with them, unknowingly, because they are a part of a prophecy and their presence is linked to the return of the good king Aslan and the end of the winter.
I won't give away the whole movie. But this hope brings spring with it, and the winter that seemed to never end begins to melt away. Aslan is on the move! Hope is returning. Suddenly the emotional contagion that was in power, is reversed and hope becomes the greater force.
The children do not witness the return of Aslan firsthand but are told of the coming of the king and the return of spring through various creatures they meet in Narnia. These creatures serve as heralds to the good news just like John the Baptist was a herald in proclaiming Jesus' coming. Heralds are people that carry or bring important news. Often this term was used for those that proclaimed news for royal courts. In Narnia, without these heralds the children would be lost and would think that it would always be winter. They might give up hope or not know their purpose in that world.
Our texts today celebrate the heralds of the good news of Jesus Christ. These heralds tell us to rejoice in the midst of winter. To rejoice in the midst of darkness, because there is great news to share: the king is on his way. The light is coming. The king will be present with us soon.
This news that we share is as contagious as the news that Aslan is on the move. God's promises are contagious. And like any good news it should be brought forward with a smile on our faces. If anything in our world should be an emotional contagion it's the good news of Jesus Christ.
Our Old Testament Lesson from Isaiah is the message that in the Gospel of Luke initiates Jesus' ministry. Listen to the words: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me, he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners. " The Jewish Bible, the Tanach interprets the first verse this way: "He has sent me as a herald of joy."
Contagions these days are considered negative. There's been so much talk about bird flu. But what about a positive contagion? What about a contagion of JOY! Something good to pass from person to person. The Holy Spirit is the contagion for the good news of Jesus Christ. This is good contagion because the good news is something each of us need.
It's amazing how something as simple as reading Scripture or hearing the promises of God from another person's lips can be that contagion for me. Maybe I am afraid I'm not good enough or don't have my act together enough to spread the good news. But that's why I need to spread it--Because I know I need to hear it too.
We may be in winter ourselves. We may be meeting people and bringing people this good news while they are in the midst of winters we don't understand, but we need to believe this good news is really good, and that it really does bring with it real joy.
So often we think evangelism is a bad thing. So often Christians play the part of the White Witch scaring people into faith. Turning the news of Jesus Christ's coming and presence in the world into something we should fear. Maybe if we saw evangelism for what it is: Bringing the good news to people who need it, we wouldn't be frozen ourselves. Maybe the Holy Spirit's work could thaw us out!
At the heart of our faith we believe that we have good news to share with the world. We are heralds by baptism, and like John the Baptist, we do not say that we are the light ourselves, but servants of the light. We testify and witness to the light. Advent is an invitation to learn that good story again. And to be a herald for that good news. We have something to smile about, and we have something good to share. In Narnia they lived 100 years without Christmas, but we know that God's promises come to us faithfully in the Christchild. Without Christ there would be no Christmas, but we know he is coming!
So rejoice all you forgiven sinners. Like the children who enter Narnia, we are directly connected to this good news, and we can't wait for the coming celebration of the bringer of our salvation, Jesus Christ! The baby born in a manger shows us that God is on the move. God is coming to us and hasn't forgotten us. God is with us. Emmanuel. Such good news. What a joy to be called to spread it!
Copyright © 2005 Joshua Graber
Comments welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org