One of my favourite movie moments occurs in the beautifully goofy comedy Naked Gun. In this scene a person somehow ends up riding a military rocket (!) being carried on a mobile launcher (!!) which then crashes headlong into a fireworks factory (!!!). As the expected carnage unfolds behind him, Detective Frank Drebin does his duty and tries to disperse the crowd of horrified onlookers. “Nothing to see here! Please disperse. Nothing to see here!” he exhorts calmly as fiery explosions and fireworks light the sky behind him.
I hate to harp on this every year but I am annually annoyed by Christians who renew shouts of, “It’s my right to say Merry Christmas whether you like it or not”. These uptight people love renewing a perceived fight with the liberal, godless culture around them when there is actually ‘nothing to see here’. I guess I’m too easy to get along with but I’ve never been martyred for saying Merry Christmas.
The good news is they motivate many of us to avoid that angry version of Christianity. The bad news is that their thoughtless spewing turns them into atheist-making machines, driving still another stake into the character of Christianity.
Most of you know how I feel about fundamentalist types but they always seem to follow a predictable path, beginning with amusing, then moving to foolish, then to frustrating, then to the occasional blasphemy. There has been a recent avalanche of crazy from right-wingers south of our border saying that Trump has been ‘chosen by God’ (Canada has a similar brand of right-wingedness).
To fundamentalists there is nothing to see here: this is normal and healthy.
Except there is, it’s not, and it’s not.
This cultish bowing down to the emperor is very dangerous, as history shows, and the idea that selected circumstances ‘prove’ this particular leader is chosen by God is very bad interpretation of biblical text. In fact, a case could be made that one theme of scripture is that harm falls on his people because of the evil activities of leaders.
By definition fundamentalists seek to return their surroundings to a previous time or ethic that they are more comfortable with. Change is viewed as unreliable and dangerous compared to the comfort and safety of the good old days and they will quickly cluster around someone who is strong and charismatic enough to promise that to them.
There is a saying that change is inevitable. Whether we like it or not it is true. The cycles of birth and death are our first clue but its truth extends beyond to graduations, leaving home, houses, shoes, jobs, cars, relationships, and we even get regular new news.
So one concern with fundamentalist Christianity is that it doesn’t accept change as being good. Fundamentalists have formed their opinions, in a sense they have already ‘arrived’, so even Jesus gets frozen in place. Fundamentalists don’t actually see Jesus as an agent of change, the very thing he came to be, but as a divine confirmation of what they already are.
Think about that for a moment: Jesus came to bring change; change happens, in fact must happen. We can pretend to hold it back but that is only standing in front of the passing world while shouting, “Nothing to see here!”.
If you read your Bible with an eye for change, you will see it through the entire unfolding narrative and revelation. It’s especially prominent in the New Testament when Jesus breaks into history in a totally new way, grows to be a radical teacher, questions fundamentalist assumptions, uses a torture instrument as a symbol of change, and founds a church that embraces values that are new and counter-intuitive to the world around them. (Among other things, believers came to represent a new Way where women, Gentiles, the poor, slaves, other races were welcomed; they lived lives of generosity and peace, stopped offering sacrifices, even worshipped outside of synagogue, and no longer feared death.)
And as the world shouted “Nothing to see here” the quiet truth was that everything was new after Jesus.
We are entering the annual season of Advent. This is the time before Christmas that is traditionally set aside to reflect on the danger, desperation, hopelessness which preceded the arrival of Jesus.
In our culture of prosperity and busyness it is very easy to make the season all about focusing on the day: decorating, shopping, parties, lights – but the danger is that we spend the entire season already at Christmas instead of doing the hard work of considering what the world must have felt like before Jesus came.
Or considering what your world was like before he came to you.
Or considering how your world could change if you truly believed that he has come.
Christmas is just a day; Advent is the entire season. It anticipates and embraces the newness of God.
If you struggle with change that’s okay but I want you to consider what could happen if we gave up clinging to the way things are and united our efforts in bringing something new. What if generosity, justice, equality were real? What if the poor could have a home; people didn’t wake up hungry; children could be safe? What if there were enough jobs to go around? What if water, air, plants, animals, and all of Creation were cared for? What if everyone lived in peace. What if we worshipped God together?
Guess what? That is a picture of the Kingdom of God.
Guess what else? All those things are within our grasp if only we could be willing to leave old things behind and give ourselves to change.
As Advent descends, I’m asking you to think about what change needs to happen in your life. Then imagine what difference that change could bring.
Then ask Jesus to help you. He’s all about change.