Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Still waiting? Six reasons why Advent is important
Matthew 21:12-22
“MY house shall be called a house of prayer”; ‘but you are making it a den of robbers’

(2) Advent reminds us that religious sentiment can sometimes be exploited.

Advent reminds us that religious sentiment can be exploited. The folk at the Temple were not evil people. They were offering services for those coming to make sacrifices, to meet their obligations. Certainly they might have been more judicious but in a church such as you have here in the middle of Harvard yard we understand the nuances involved in making books and compact discs available to those who pass in and out of the doors. It might be different if we had a plethora of other offerings including a booth where you could exchange your euros for dollars at a discounted rate, but we do not.

It is not needed in this community to remind us that at Christmas we all are a bit vulnerable to manipulation. Otherwise reasonable people for the best of reasons spring for purchases far beyond what they can reasonably afford. I have some first hand experience. The other day Jan and I left Morning Prayers to purchase our Christmas Tree; I said as we began walking into the field that this was the year to be more modest in our aspirations. And we walked by several modest expressions of Balsam Fir-ness and when we arrived back at our truck the professional at the gate said: “My, that is a big tree.” Reasonable people do foolish things at Christmas. We took a foot off the top so it could fit in the room and it took the neighbor to help hold it in place.

As we venture toward the Temple of Christmas, our escape is to seek meaning and scale in what we give. Recently the Chief Rabbi of London, Jonathan Sacks, was my guest at MIT and he pointed me to a story told by Loren Eisely, the anthropologist and son of Nebraska who told of a young man on the beach observed by another. He was throwing starfish back into the sea. When asked why, the young man patiently explained that if left on the beach the starfish would die. The observer being of a practical bent, made the point that there were miles of beach and thousands of starfish. “What difference would one make?” The young man replied that the observation was true, but that it made a difference to the starfish he held in his hand and he went back to making a difference one starfish at a time.

Rather than another sweater for Dad, you may want to make a gift to relief in Darfur. Looking at the landscape of need out there, many of us are paralyzed. It is easier to bear the groans of children who once again have received something they do not need, or did not want, than it is to find some place where our gifts are met by need. Let me suggest to each of you that this year you find a concern in the world that matters to you and on your Christmas list a corresponding individual for whom you will make a contribution in their name. Give locally to those who are homeless and served here in Harvard Square by the shelter at University Lutheran Church; give regionally to environmental causes such as Friends of the Reservation-the Fells, Alewife, Breakheart—are all organizations locally that could use your support. Or you might reach out to Darfur, the West Bank, to our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Use the occasion to become knowledgeable about what you are doing. Turn exploitation into education and make a difference one starfish at a time.