One of my favorite things to do on Thanksgiving is go to my favorite milkshake bar. Isn’t that basically was Starbucks is? I rarely frequent it, but every year on the way to my parents’ house, I try to get a cup. I’m usually sleepy, like I was this year, from cooking the night before, so a little caffeine boost is nice. I walked into the store and noticed they had prominently displayed a “Christmas Blend.” I thought, I love Christmas. It’s a reminder of Jesus everywhere. Some of you know this, I don’t particularly celebrate the commercialization of Christmas, but I have always seen it as an opportunity and a result of the culture’s longing for joy and even for Jesus.
It only dawned on me later that many Christians, absolutely none of whom I have met or spoken to, were being rather hysterical about Starbucks and its anti-Christmas message. I didn’t get to follow the whole story since I don’t have cable news, but somehow people were upset about this cup and Starbucks’ use of it.
I kind of like the minimalism of the red cups if someone pressed me, but I don’t really care about coffee cups. Jeremy served me a coffee at his coffee shop Reanimator the other day, and his cup was just white. So, the whole thing is a little over my head.
Again, I don’t really know any Christians who are up-in-arms about this, and sometimes I think the media just invents stuff about us (and sometimes Christians do wild things that are unfortunately newsworthy). But I am struck often by the tininess of the Body of Christ.
If you are very concerned with your status in this world, if you would like the United States to protect your rights and include you in their democracy, you may need to make yourself rather tiny and small to do that. If Starbucks needs to acknowledge yor faith in some arbitrary way, which I found that they did when I went in to the store, your faith my be fairly small too.
I think all that tininess is OK. Not because it’s good to be tiny, but it is out of that tininess that we are saved.
In the tininess of the World, God embraced our tininess and made his home in us. We are his tiny house.
Rather than trying to get our names printed on a corporate cup, we want God’s name to be written on us despite how small we are. You could get up-in-arms about Starbucks, or you could similarly get up-in-arms about how Santa, and trees, and all of the commercialism is just pagan and dumb. On either side, you are liable to go too far.I think Advent can center us.
Advent, as some of you know, is the four weeks before Christmas where we are awaiting the incarnation of Christ, we think of the main characters in the nativity narrative before concluding with Jesus himself on Christmas Eve. When we think of the prophets, John the Baptist, Mary, and the shepherds we may very well note how grand they are! But I hope we can see their own tininess and so we can see how Jesus used them and saved them too.
The entire point of the birth of Jesus is the humility, or even the humiliation of his incarnation. Jesus’ whole life seems to be painfully tiny and that is frustrating for his worn-torn, constantly captive and overwhelmed people.
The story of Israel in the Bible is not one of great military conquests and domination. God’s people seem to be tiny compared to the world powers that surround it and as it keeps trying to copy the world, it shrinks even further. When Jesus shows up, Israel is a shadow of its former self, led by people who culturally assimilated to Hellenism that you might not even be able to tell the difference between a Jewish leader and a Roman authority. These days, our Christian politicians are doing that very same thing.
If we turn to the Christmas prophet, Isaiah, we can see Israel’s tininess a little more clear. When Isaiah is prophesying in his large book, the Assyrians have taken over the northern Kingdom of Israel and were threatening the southern Kingdom of Judah. King Hezekiah is still the king of Judah and Isaiah is one of his main prophets. The king is foolish with the nations treasures and he brings on Babylonian captivity to his own people, which Isaiah predicts.
In Isaiah, particularly then, Israel itself, oppressed on all sides, is tiny and it needs a savior.
Isaiah himself is tiny, too. Biblical prophets, in general, seem to hold a position of humility even though they have something of a direct line to God. As he describing a great vision from God, Isaiah says this: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
Christmas really is about smallness in many ways. Consider tiny Tim, the little boy that softens Scrooge’s heart. When Sgrooge sees his plight, he himself is humbled and convicted to change his ways.
The same goes for Rudolph. The downtrodden reindeer, without much going for him, being a distractingly anomalous nose. He is the one who will guide Santa as he saves Christmas. His liability becomes the strength.
You can see it in the meaning that Charlie Brown’s tiny Christmas tree. It’s all over the place. In the huge season, tininess saves us and redeems us. It’s in Isaiah’s prophecy too. And it’s in Jesus as well. You can know him, follow him, and be filled with him because he became tiny like you.
I feel the burden even as a parent to make sure that the holiday goes smoothly and perfectly and hugely. I have to come to terms with my own limits this Christmas season.
Our nuclear families are like Israel too. They can’t fulfill their ultimate purpose on their own. But yet Christmas is the time we must shore up the myth of the family’s power and potential or feel bad about how we failed at it/were failed by it. It either needs to work or it didn’t and we are reminded of its dysfunction.
Today, can you try this: accept the limitations of their tininess. Remember tiny Israel, tiny Isaiah, tiny Jesus. Remember your tiny faith, tiny humanness, tiny family. Put your hope in God even if he seems a long way off, or it seems too dark, or it seems like it shouldn’t be as far or as dark as it is right now.