135 Days

"After the [insert cliche] there was a sound. Thin. Quiet"
(1 Kings 19:12).

Yesterday I went to the boys' school for lunch: it was billed as a Thanksgiving lunch with dads, so the cafeteria served turkey, dressing, sweet potato pie, etc. A more skeptical person might have suspected the real motive here was to get dads and their wallets on campus for the school book fair. Actually I'm pretty sure that was the deal, so maybe it's not so skeptical after all. Anyhow, I took the boys on their book buying spree the day before, so we were able to enjoy lunch together without the pressure of eating quickly and rushing to the library to celebrate Thanksgiving by... Yeah, it doesn't really work, does it?

I, and many other pastors, have made careers out of preaching this time of year, fueled by cliches: Christmas decorations up too early; music playing too soon; stores pushing December into September or October; Thanksgiving being overlooked. I could go on and on. For some, this is a pretty emotional thing; for me, it's pretty entertaining. But there are some good messages in the midst of the blustering: waiting for Christmas-- I'm talking about after Thanksgiving-- is a wonderful thing. Being too caught up in things is not. Anticipating God's justice is what we are called to do-- overindulging in food and stuff is not.

For many folk, Black Friday has become a holy day itself. I've already started to see this message pop up on Facebook-- it's pretty good: “This year we'll give thanks for the blessings we have on Thursday; on Friday we'll say, ‘It's not enough!’" As an alternative, we're seeing billboards funded by the United Methodist Church across the country offering this message: "Spend less, give more." Use the resources we have to bless someone in real, meaningful ways, instead of spending on things that will break or wear out. Now, I have not noticed whether the message has been endorsed by the National Retailers Association, etc., but I am fairly sure it is consistent with what we see in the gospels.

Thanksgiving is early this year-- November 22-- so we'll have a full five weeks before Christmas. That's a good thing. There will be plenty of time to decorate, sing carols, and be excited for December 25. If you can resist the timing of the malls, you will find a deeper meaning of the season. Next year Easter is also early-- March 31-- so we'll have less time to store away the joy of salvation that God promises us. That’s also a good thing. If we can focus our attention on the messages God is trying to communicate to us between today and Easter (135 days?) we'll be stronger in faith. Think about it: Gratitude. Generosity. Peace. Joy. Sharing. Salvation. Invitation. Journey. Holiness.

These and other profound words are out there for us, even if they are hidden or lost in our easily distracted selves. I often hear people lamenting the way God spoke to folk in biblical times: a burning bush, a divided Red Sea, inside a giant fish, feeding thousands with a kid's lunch, raising the sick or the dead to new life. Yeah, it would be great if God was a little more obvious today. But maybe the issue isn't with God-- it's with us. Maybe God is ready to send you a word-- just the word you're needing to hear-- if you'll be present enough to hear. Maybe God will use your voice to communicate a message to someone else-- if you'll listen closely enough in prayer.

135 days.

That's time enough for God to reach out to you in all kinds of ways. Thanksgiving. Christmas. Easter. Cowboys vs. Redskins. Black Friday/Cyber Monday. Decorating church and home. Parties. Parades. Egg hunts. Changing weather. Trust me when I say this: God is more than capable to break through the cliches, the blustering, the busy-ness (and the business), the work, the pace of life, and every other barrier we set up. God can, and will, deliver a message to you-- or through you-- even in spite of you. And it is in that message, and nothing you can buy or exchange or sell, where you will find the real message of [insert holiday] or the reason for [insert season].

Do you know the story of Elijah on the mountain (1 Kings 19)? He was a prophet with a powerful message to deliver, but he ran away because he was afraid. While he was there he had an experience of holiness. There was a violent wind. But God wasn't in the wind. There was an earthquake. But God wasn't in the earthquake. Then a fire. God wasn't there either. Hear this: "After the fire, there was a sound. Thin. Quiet. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his coat." He went outside the cave and heard the voice of God. So be still. Wrap your face in your coat and step into God's presence. Listen for the still, small voice Elijah heard-- in the quiet, where it was least expected.

135 days. Today. Right now. Thin. Quiet.