I am a salmon heading upstream with some incredible inner urge to meet. I negotiate the currents of traffic, weave my way through crowds, leap to get that choice parking spot, weave my way through crowds, in search of some inestimable goal – comfort and joy, comfort and joy.
But, ye merry gentlepeople, those two words are like oil and water. If it’s comfort we seek - then it’s joy we trade in exchange. Not comfort and joy but comfort or joy.
For Jesus Christ is born this day as a sign of peace and hope for our world – a saviour. But if you follow his story from here to Easter, you’ll find few comforts along the way. Not the comforts of home, not the comforts of friendships that’ll last, not the comforts of social moral codes that seem like rock – but shift with the sands of time. Nope, Jesus even pushed past the comforts of religion - boxed and delivered as truth, wrapped in power and privilege and tied with a ribbon of guarantee – you get in the box and stay in the box and we’ll provide the comforts of security, safety, and blessed social stability.
Now, I like my comforts as much as the next hedonist. You might even catch me saying that I love them. I love good food, good movies, good clothing, good sports, electronics, kitchen and yard tools, good transportation, good art, good music, good travel and resorts… Good grief – I’m so cultured it’s no wonder I have so little time and money to waste on others.
In our increasingly pagan culture of earth worshippers, we are a highly spiritual people. We embrace the divinity present in all good things of the earth. We find ways to insert the traditions of the past into the tide of consumer-mono-culture that has swamped the western world in the last century and is now shifting east. Our homes are sanctuaries where domestic gods are kept appeased by sacrificing -the future that could be- on the altar of today’s happy comforts.
Our efforts to be good green consumers remind me of Jesus’ story of the Pharisee loudly praying “Thank GOD I’m not as bad as that sinner over there.”
Jesus pushed past the comforts to pursue - not happiness – but joy. And his story – the good news we call it – is that joy is found only when we travel fast and light, sacrificing comfort for a pursuit with no guarantees – except…what? The comforts of heaven?
The offer of the comforts of heaven seem okay – but not as good as we get here on earth. Is there cable in heaven? Forget cable, is there 24/7 wireless media streaming total information and entertainment to feed our minds, hearts and soul and lift us from the drudgery of having to pay for it all some day.
Hell is getting the bill. I’m not just talking about the post holyday splurge January VISA. I’m talking bout the bill our children’s children will be living with long after we’re playing harps in the clouds watching them choke and spit on toxic spill. Sound like a good way to spend eternity?
But – again – if we travel only a bit with Jesus we find that he doesn’t have much use for fear as a motivator. He knows, as a sheep herder, that fear is what gets them in the box and keeps them there. Fear in a box ferments despair. Despair – disguised as Joy - says “what the hell eh? what can I do? we’re here for a good time not a long time – right? I’m buying.”
Where in the gospel story do you find Jesus hanging out with sheep? The gentle shepherd thing is what we call “spin” today – courtesy of a church interested in keeping comfort front and centre. Meanwhile Jesus is out on the fringes looking for those with nothing to lose, with nothing to gain in a game they can’t win. He’s looking for travelers. He’s looking for the ones ready for something new, lookin for them that’s fed up and starving for a life worth livin.
Jesus is Moses sayin to Pharoah “let my people go”
Jesus is Elijah taunting Jezebel’s priests “is that the best you’ve got?”
Jesus is Isaiah looking through GOD’s sad, angry, discouraged eyes for a new heaven and a new earth:
“Pay close attention now:
I’m creating new heavens and a new earth.
All the earlier troubles, chaos, and pain
are things of the past, to be forgotten.
Look ahead with joy.
Anticipate what I’m creating:
I’ll create Jerusalem as sheer joy,
create my people as pure delight.
I’ll take joy in Jerusalem,
take delight in my people:
Joy, joy, joy is the Maker’s intent. It’s what the Maker does best. Not pie in the sky when you die - but an earthbound circle of journey found by those who travel light and leave behind what’s not absolutely needed to get where we’re going.
It’s a journey anyone can take. It costs nothing – except everything. It can be started in a hospital bed or even a death bed. It’s never too late to begin. It can be started together - traveling companions will be key – but know that parts of the road will always be lonely. It’s a path that is difficult but easy to find. It crosses the highways and shortcuts of the mainstream often but winds the long way up, down and round. It goes round and round til you’re sure you’re lost and only then find what’s been with you all along.
These first days of the next decade of a new century, may the road of Joy rise up to meet you. Make you take a step in the right direction. May you encourage me and all the other sinners you know to go with you. May you seek a Maker who can’t be found. May you discover with surprise the joys of making your way amidst the temptations and testimonies of the sages of the ages.