Summary: Christmas 2: Jesus’ selfless love and compassion is offered by God to bring light and forgiveness to sinful human self-centeredness.
In his book The Power of the Powerless (New York: Doubleday, 1988), Christopher de Vinck tells a simple story. He writes: “One spring afternoon my five-year-old son, David, and I were planting raspberry bushes along the side of the garage. A neighbor joined us for a few moments. David pointed to the ground. ‘Look, Daddy! What’s that?’ I stopped talking with my neighbor and looked down. ‘A beetle,’ I said. David was impressed and pleased with the discovery of this fancy, colorful creature. My neighbor lifted his foot and stepped on the insect, giving his shoe an extra twist in the dirt. ‘That ought to do it,’ he laughed. David looked up at me, waiting for an explanation, a reason. That night, just before I turned off the light in his bedroom, David whispered, ‘I liked that beetle, Daddy.’ ‘I did too,’ I whispered back.’ ” (Illustration from homileticsonline.com, as quoted by Marilyn W. Spry)
Compassion is a commodity that is in incredibly short supply. Whether it is compassion directed at the curiosity of a five-year-old toward a beetle or whether it is being kind to someone whom you’ve never met before – compassion is not a very common thing. When we see it, it is a wonderful, heart-warming thing. People that care; that love others; that love their church; that sacrifice their own time to do that which brings joy or helps another person are a wonderful blessing. I love tender-hearted people – don’t you?
The Gospel reading for today talks about the reason that compassion is such a scarce thing – darkness. The sin that is part of our lives engenders within us a darkness that is often characterized by self-centeredness. Compassion is lacking when people live self-centered lives. “What’s in it for me?” – is the mantra. Among the fruits of the sinful nature that St. Paul lists we find: “selfish ambition.” St. James says this about living in self-centered darkness: “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” (James 3:16) When all that we do revolves around, ‘me’ and what I can get out of life; when relationships are about fulfilling my desires and needs at the expense of others; then life is lived out in a sin-shrouded darkness where compassion becomes conspicuously absent.
The pattern for living in darkness was actually set by satan himself. Isaiah, in metaphor, describes the pride and selfishness that caused the downfall of satan. Listen to the description of satan that God gave to the prophet: “How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ But you are brought down to the grave, to the depths of the pit.” (Isaiah 14:11-15) I will; I will; I will; I will; I will; when it is about ‘me’ or ‘I’ then selfishness and sin and darkness are the result.
Selfishness is lived out in the most interesting places – in homes, workplaces, relationships, even in church. While my son Roland was staying with us, I invited him to go to the gym with me. We had a good workout and then afterwards we had a little talk about the ethos of gyms. As we talked, my son reminded me about group of singers that went by the name of “Right Said Fred.” These guys were trying to break into the music business, but were having a tough time of it. So a couple of the guys in the group started to work at a gym just to make ends meet. And there, they got the inspiration for the song that became their claim to fame.
It seems that a number of fashion models worked out at this particular gym. These guys noticed how ego-driven these models were. And so they wrote a song that spoofed the self-centered life of the fashion model. Their song poked fun at the obsession with physical perfection that becomes so all consuming for some that they seem to live only for the sake of their bodies. Let me paraphrase a couple of lines from their song:
"I’m too lovely for my shirt, too lovely for my shirt, too lovely, too lovely;
I’m too lovely for my car, too lovely for my car, too lovely, too lovely;"
The song makes fun of egocentrism because it is so painfully obvious that it is silly. Nevertheless, this selfish way of living manifests itself in so many different ways in our own lives. Me-ism; self-centeredness; selfishness; darkness… that is the place that an all consuming focus on self leads us toward.