The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

December 20, 2013

Reasonable or ridiculous, God works in strange ways

From the Pulpit

By Rev. Dr. Glenn Hink

- — 5 a.m. It’s a ridiculous time. The alarm sounds. I roll over and consider my choices.

On most mornings the alarm goes off at 6:14 a.m. I call it the “reasonable alarm.” National Public Radio comes on 88.5 WYSU out of Youngstown. My wife and I listen to the news in a semi-stupor, doze and ponder the day. At 6:30 a.m. it’s Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor. We listen, learn a little literary history, and hear the poem of the day. Next up is a shower, getting dressed, a glimpse at the Herald, breakfast, and then out the door. That’s most mornings. 6:14 a.m. It’s a civilized start; the “reasonable alarm.”

But some mornings it’s the “ridiculous alarm.” I call it that because it seems ridiculous to get up that early. However, my wife doesn’t mind. She seems to like the challenge. She likes the quiet. She calls it “a good start to the day.” We haven’t got close to consensus on that yet.

5 a.m. Sometimes the “ridiculous alarm” happens because of a meeting in Pittsburgh, or an early-morning flight or some extra work that needs to be done. 5 a.m., it does happen sometimes. When it does, I have my wife set the alarm. I prefer to not be party to anything at 5 a.m. It’s ridiculous.

Ridiculous and reasonable; I have noticed this Advent season the repeated refrain that the coming of God’s salvation and Savior seems to turn things upside down. The first words of Christmas salvation come from the wild-eyed baptizer John in the desolation of the desert. Angels appear, share the good news from God, and then say “Don’t be afraid.” God’s Savior is entrusted to the working class hands of a couple from the backwater town of Nazareth. The birth happens in the quiet privacy of an everyday family, just like other births. “Ridiculous,” we might say, if we didn’t know the story so well.

And so the salvation of God comes to make right what is wrong. It welcomes home those who live on the margins of life. It turns the world upside down. It seems ridiculous to most people. No one calls it “reasonable.” But for some it is the power of God’s love: salvation.

A friend shared a story with me. He grew up with five siblings in rural poverty on a farm in New York. One year it was especially difficult when his dad was sick for most of the year. There was nothing extra for Christmas gifts. Life was day to day, stretching what there was to get everyone fed, clothed and kept warm.

An unexpected basket came by delivery a few days before Christmas. It had red bows on the handles. The delivery man placed the bushel basket on the kitchen table. The children gathered around. Their hushed surprise gave way to great joy. Inside the basket was a bushel of oranges. The golden oranges brought across the December snows of New York spoke of an exotic, distant land. The surprising gift came from an uncle who knew of the family’s struggles.

But what happened next my friend remembers even more. His mother had each of the kids pick out an orange as a Christmas gift. She then took hold of the golden basket by the handles with the red bows, went out the door, and walked down the hill to all the neighbors. She was gone all afternoon delivering oranges to neighbor after neighbor. All shared in poverty. Now all shared in the surprising gift of oranges. There was one for everyone: a Christmas gift.

Such generosity would probably seem ridiculous to most people. And no own called it “reasonable.” But for a mother it was the power of love, the gift of Christmas, the salvation of God.

In our busy, get-it-done world, we come to Christmas looking for neither. Instead we listen to familiar Bible stories a little more carefully. We quietly sing Christmas carols from the heart. We light candles with hope. We come to the communion table with humility and expectation. We believe that the veil between heaven and earth, between God and creation, is a little thinner. There is a holy peace, and a quiet joy. Is it “reasonable”? Probably not. Is it “ridiculous”? Some might say that. But is it holy? Absolutely. God is near. Reasonable or ridiculous, God has a strange way of turning things upside down: the power of love, the gift of Christmas, the salvation of God.

5 a.m. Maybe I should consider setting that alarm sometimes, and call it “good news.” Merry Christmas.

Rev. Dr. Glenn Hink is pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Sharon.