Beer is Good; and People are Crazy”
Once upon a time, a certain church had just completed their annual Christmas pageant. There had been Scripture readings and hymns, communion and candle light. It was beautiful, reverent and joyful. Everyone was enjoying the warm and worshipful Christmas spirit when the pastor began to offer the benediction. Standing in front of the congregation, the pastor felt a little hand patting his leg. Six-year-old Amanda, who had played King Herod in the pageant, wanted to say something. Amused, the pastor handed the microphone to Amanda and invited her to speak. Amanda looked at the people and announced, “I am King Herod and I have been watching you. I am going to kill all your babies.”
An uncomfortable murmur spread throughout the congregation. Amanda’s declaration put a serious damper on the “Christmas spirit” that everyone had been feeling only a few moments ago. The parishioners wanted to go home feeling good. Instead, Amanda had given them something profound to think about.
Under normal circumstances, the birth of a child is a special event as it brings excitement and joy to new parents and extended family. We know by way of the gospel that Jesus was not born under normal circumstances. When Mary discovered that she was pregnant Joseph wanted a quiet separation, but an angel of the Lord intervened and Joseph changed his mind.
Following the birth of Jesus, the act of parenting became dangerous as a paranoid and power-hungry king sent the brutal sword of death to Bethlehem’s young children, but before he could put his plan into action an angel of the Lord appeared again to Joseph. As a citizen of the 21st century and a father of four and grandfather of seven, I cannot imagine what it must have been like for Joseph to take Mary and child in the darkness of night and travel unfamiliar trails and terrain all the way to Egypt, a country Joseph most certainly had heard about by way of the Exodus story but a country we have no record of him ever visiting. In the midst of political turmoil, a death threat, and no safe way home, the Holy Family survived.
On this New Year’s Day, when our heads and hearts are filled with dreams and aspirations and hope for a good and safe year in front of us, we can lift our hearts in quiet but serious reflection: Thanks be to God for the gift of the Christ-Child, the giver of life, hope, and freedom. Thanks be to God for angels of the Lord that come to us in the middle of our sleep to offer words of heavenly wisdom. Thanks be to God for people like Joseph who are not so rigid, dogmatic and strident in their way of thinking that they resist the holy and sacred, unable to see and hear and act on the mystery that comes to them unannounced. Thanks be to God for the safe passage to a strange land and the refuge enjoyed there. And, thanks be to God for the death of Herod and the continuation of the gospel story that brings to us the gifts of salvation and redemption, forgiveness and hope.
Songwriter Billy Currington tells the story about taking a ride one day in a rural area of Alabama. Enjoying the natural beauty of the countryside Currington was trying to think about three things you can’t argue with and he came he came up with the following: God is great; beer is good; and people are crazy. He went back to the house, picked up his guitar, wrote several lines, and ended up with a hit that is still popular in the world of country music.
I would make the argument this morning that the lyrics of this song offer good theology and also a very realistic world-view. On the days when life is good, even and smooth and the road rises to meet our feet, God is great. I also believe that on the days when life is sour and maybe even bitter with a strong wind blowing in our face, God is great. We may not understand why some things happen the way they do, but at the end of the day we are invited to lift our hearts in the wisdom of the Psalmist, “The Lord will keep me from all evil; and (in Christ) the Lord will keep my life.” (Psalm 121:7)
As a follower of Jesus and the Jesus Way, I would also suggest a slight amendment to the lyrics: As a Christian I believe God is great. As a Presbyterian I believe Scotch is better, and as an observer and participant in the everyday affairs of the world, I see people who are kind and considerate, loving and compassionate, but I think you would agree with me there is a good percentage of folk in the world who are definitely crazy, crazy in the sense they are selfish, irresponsible and dangerous to be around, and like Herod crazy in the sense they would very much enjoy the opportunity to eliminate Emmanuel and his message of the gospel.
The Christmas season is not always a time filled with joy, at least for some people. Christmas was especially hard for a father who had lost his eighteen-month-old son. The season as you can imagine elicited painful memories. One December morning on his way to work, the grieving father passed a Nativity scene in a department store window. He tried not to notice the shining smiles on the faces of Mary and Joseph as they gazed down at baby Jesus.
A moment later, he passed the Holy Innocents Orphanage and he started thinking. Holy Innocents. Wasn’t that the title given to all the babies who were murdered by Herod’s men in Bethlehem? Suddenly, there was the realization that the Christmas story doesn’t end with the words, “And they all lived happily ever after.” It is a story of a very special birth that brings salvation and freedom to lost and desperate souls of the world, but it is also a story of death and the lust for power and unjust social systems and innocence sacrificed. The father whose heart had been filled with grief for so long visited the orphanage later that afternoon. It changed his life.
Arriving home, he described to his wife a dreary place full of sad children who were desperate for attention from a caring adult. That evening, the father donated a large amount of money to the Holy Innocents Orphanage. The Board of Directors accepted the gift and built a new wing in honor of the deceased son, “David.” The man’s wife marveled at the change in her husband. It was the first time in twenty two years he had mentioned his son’s name. Life is hard. But the story of Herod and the Holy Family’s escape to Egypt is a reminder of the truth. Evil never has the last word. Amen.