Leaving the Party Too Soon ...
By Rev. Dr. Steve Van Ostran Executive Minister
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route (Mt. 2:9-12, NIV).
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Mt. 16:15-16, NIV).
Because of Covid-19, most of us did not go to many (if any) Christmas parties this year. But, if we honestly reflect back to that time (when we could host Christmas parties), and when we could invite friends, family members, Sunday School members, Youth Group members ... or whomever ... over to our house to celebrate the "Season," admittedly, there still were a few guests whom we dreaded to see.
The first guest: the one who arrived too early.
In the midst of completing the final "touch-ups" on the house, and in preparing the refreshments that couldn’t be made prior to the party (because of the ongoing busyness: taking turns going up to the one-bathroom in the house to “freshen up” from a day of cleaning, running errands, and then cooking and getting ready to be the perfect host couple), the doorbell suddenly rings and …
... that person…
... the one who feels a little lonely, and perhaps is a little needy, (but still is one in your circle) now is at the door, having misread the announcement and arriving an hour early.
They’re not the type of person who’s going to uninvitedly "jump in" and help … not because they feel "too good or proud" to do so … but instead, simply because they haven't thought of those things. They’re also not the type of person you can say … “Hey, go run an errand and come back in an hour.”
Instead, you just simply have to do all of your final preparations with him or her ... that person … that early arriver … just lurking around in your home, who's looking at your family photos and who's awkwardly trying to make occasional conversation.
But then, there also is ... the other person …
... the one who comes to the party, but whom also is such a socialite that he or she only stays for a short time.
You’ve worked all day on this fantastic dessert that you've planned to serve after dinner … after the games ... to bring the party to its appropriate climax. After all, this dessert is your gift to the guests and your claim to the Church Host/Hostess Hall of Fame … and it's a dish good enough to be a "British Bake-Off" showstopper ... when ...
... the pastor or another "key" individual or couple tells you that they can’t stay until the end … they’ve overbooked and have to leave right after the meal to go to another party.
Or maybe they don’t even make it for dinner … they just stop in for a moment to visit as folks are gathering together and then they formulate their reasonable excuses and make a noticeable exit. And so, they leave.
They have left the party too soon.
Of course, the truth is that few parties actually suffer because of these awful guests, but American culture seems to represent both of these "horrible guest" stereotypes in "one person" and in our annual Christmas festival!
You see, our annual celebration of Christmas no longer fits within the church’s parameters of Advent and Christmas, but begins (or so it seems) on Reformation Sunday ... the day after Halloween! It usurps the once traditional American celebration of Thanksgiving, and this "cultural Christmas" runs all the way until Dec. 25. But then, it ends.
Oh, some individuals might contest that Christmas continues through New Year’s Day, but in truth, that celebration rarely feels “Holy”. Most often it feels like a celebration of Bacchus, not of Jesus.
And, you might be thinking ... "So, what?"
Well, today, Jan. 6, is the last official day of the Christmas season … the Day of Epiphany … which is perhaps the most important day of the celebration in my book.
Yes, it is the day we traditionally celebrate the coming of the Magi … although that visitation probably occurred several months (or up to two years) AFTER the actual birth of Jesus (i.e., witness the slaying of the innocents … any male child under two!).
But even more important than the coming of the Magi … it is their recognition that this child that was born so miraculously was not just a child born with God’s blessing … this child was the Messiah, the Son of God.
This child was the Christ… was God incarnate.
And even though Mary and Joseph … and probably even the Magi … didn’t understand the fullness of that moment ... (in fact, even Peter did not understand the fullness of that truth when he professed his faith many years later) … we who live "post-crucifixion and death" of Jesus also live "post-resurrection, post-ascension and post-proclamation" and in the testimony of Jesus’ true nature and purpose!
We KNOW that anyone who believes in Him will have Life that only He can give.
The Magi and the very life of that little baby to whom they brought gifts both proclaim the truth that Jesus is Lord and also declare that He came to Save all of humankind.
Peter’s confession also bears witness to this. And that is what today … Epiphany … is all about.
So, you see our culture … and we ourselves for whatever part we take in it … is that truly awful party guest that comes a bit too early, but leaves way too soon. Today we celebrate the greatest gift of Christmas … not the birth of the baby, but the resurrection of the Man and the promise of our own resurrection in the Kingdom to come.
As the Magi brought their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh long ago, we bring the gift of Peter today … our confession that You are the Christ, the very Son of God. Receive our gift, we pray, that we may walk with You in Your Kingdom that is both yet and not yet. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Steve Van Ostran
American Baptist Churches of the Rocky Mountains