Sunday, December 24, 2017

Isaiah 2:2-4
“Come, O Come, Emmanuel”
        It was eight years ago, the day before Thanksgiving when the rains began to fall.  This was not just a passing shower but a dreaded Nor’easterner, packing winds of 40 miles an hour.  Deb and I had driven to Norfolk to pick up our daughter and grandchild at the airport.  Martina and Andy had found a flight and we all planned to spend a couple of days together with Deb’s parents.  It was a glorious plan until the rain began to fall.  By the time we got to Hampton the roads were being swallowed by water with no place to go.  As I pulled into my father-in-laws drive way, I knew from similar storms we were safe, but stranded.  It rained all day Wednesday, continued on Thursday and finally quit on Friday.  We had electricity, which was a blessing, but much of the town including all the major roads were under a couple feet of water.
        How do you explain to a soon to be two year old that you cannot go outside?  For Andy, walking was a newly discovered freedom and he was ready to exercise his liberated limbs.  Wednesday through Friday he wore out the rug and tile in my in-laws house traveling around and around and around through the kitchen, living room, hallway and den.  By Saturday morning I was ready to teach him how to swim.  But thankfully, or so I thought, the waters had receded.  
        It was my daughter that came up with the grand plan.  Not so innocently she remarked, “We need to let Andy run around a bit.  Since we can’t take him outside, let’s hop in the car and find a Mall.  That should be good exercise. Who wants to go?”  Instantly my wife, mother-in-law and daughter were headed for the door.  Then, with the precision of synchronized swimmers they turned, and said, “Come with us. Andy would love to spend time with his grandfather. We will only stay a few minutes.”
        The first shopping mall was built in Kansas City in 1922. The first enclosed mall was opened near Minneapolis in 1956.  The first mega mall was developed in Edmonton with 800 stores, a hotel, amusement park, zoo, and a 438 foot long lake.  In these 88 years of Mall development the least kept promise has been, “We will only stay a few minutes”.
        Off we went; three women, a husband/father/son-in-law, and a baby.  As soon as we entered the hallowed halls I knew my grandson and I were about to spend a lot of quality time together.  We watched as the three women disappeared from our sight and I wondered if they ever would return.
        What do you do with a young child when stranded in the middle of a place straight out of Dante’s Divine Comedy?  We walked for a while.  That proved dangerous particularly when the child thinks that every piece of merchandise needs to be touched.  We drank juice and ate cheese crackers until we both had our fill.  We even raced the stroller through the halls which proved to be great fun until the Mall Cop asked us to slow down.  Eventually Andy fell asleep.  Since I had foolishly left the book I was reading at the house, I sat and observed the rituals people perform during this time we fondly call the holidays.
        While we were in the mall two days after Thanksgiving, the Pilgrims had long been forgotten.  The air was filled with Christmas songs of all flavors just loud enough to be heard above the constant roar of the gentle masses.  I watched as families gathered in long lines for their Kodak moment with Santa. I noticed all the splashes of green, red and gold that seemed to highlight each display window.  The Christmas Spirit was certainly in full gear.  Then I noticed the people.
        Some folks were there just to get out of the house.  They passed us innumerous times, always carrying something different purchased at the food court.  It is amazing how much we eat during the holidays even when we are not hungry.  Then again maybe we are hungering for something other than food.
        Some folks wore the hardened expression of a shopping warrior. They were looking for the perfect gift at the perfect price and they were determined to find it.  I wondered if their campaign to discover perfection continued when this day’s quest had reached its conclusion.
        Some folks had a glazed, exhausted expression of fatigue.  Maybe they had been shopping warriors when the day began but now they were tired and weary.  Maybe they had come to the realization that this holy temple only offered superficial answers to their genuine problems.  Maybe, during the season of Christ, they were shopping for the wrong gift.
Some folks were really loud.  Every word, every physical expression was bigger than life.  They lorded over their companions and yet the endless chatter seemed inane, as if they had nothing to say but were determined to say it very loudly.  Isn’t amazing how the most holy words are often discovered in the silence of a deserted barn in a forgotten village.  
I closed my eyes and begin listening to the music.  Bruce Springsteen was singing my favorite rendition of “Santa Claus is coming to town.”  Then, in a radical transition, my ears were filled with a jazzy version of Dave Brubeck playing, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”  In the midst of people who were hungry, a people searching for perfection, a people with weary and cluttered lives, the gift of grace was freely floating through the air as an answer to the confusion of a wayward people.
Come Emmanuel, fill our spiritual hunger; Come Emmanuel, direct our misguided quest; Come Emmanuel, bring light to our darkness; Come Emmanuel, speak your  words of peace. 
My grandson woke up, and he was very, very hungry.
Aren’t we all?    Aren’t we all?           Amen.  

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