given on Sunday, November 21, 2010:
Here we are stepping into the holiday season and the to-do-lists are loaded down. The typical visit to the grocery store becomes a major journey: the parking lot is way too full, the last cart has a wobbly wheel, the aisles are packed higher and wider with all the special features, the basics become hidden, and the other customers—well, let’s just say a number of descriptors come to mind.
These are the days that try men’s souls. Those few words so often used to explain how life wears one down seem to take on a mournful tone just as we enter the holidays when joy should be filling up our souls. Reading over Psalms 100 for the first time in recent memory, I am reminded that we have a responsibility to praise God, to give thanks to God, and to enjoy God’s world. The psalm is indeed a thanksgiving and we need that reminder.
As we step into the holiday season, try stepping in with joyful abandon just like the psalm begins:
On your feet now—applaud God!
Bring a gift of laughter,
Sing yourselves into his presence.
Isn’t that a much more appealing image than “these are the days that try men’s souls”? A model for this, another visual image, is Snoopy and his dances. Even when so much of life seems to give us lead feet, we need to make an effort to dance, to get up and thank God, to laugh, and to sing. If Snoopy can do it, so can I—so can we.
Paul insisted on this in his letter to the Philippians. Remember the opening verse in today’s scripture: “Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him!” Close your eyes and picture yourself dancing like Snoopy does. Head up, arms out, and feet off the ground (usually one at a time). Even if our bodies do not want to move like that, we can let our minds make those moves. What better time to celebrate than Thanksgiving right on through the Twelfth Night in January—why stop then, why not celebrate each and every day?
Of course, that is the problem isn’t it? We do let all the daily worries wear us down. We start fretting about all the little bits and pieces of earthly living. We neglect to stay focused on God. We turn selfishly into our own world and do not look outward to see the needs beyond our own front door. We listen to the news and grumble because all the headlines are so terrible. We settle into a daily routine that is joyless rather than joyful.
Paul knew how easy it was to let the world’s problems separate us from God’s love. He wrote to the Philippians to keep them connected. The fourth chapter is the last one in this letter, and he is beginning to wrap up his advice:
Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.
Those are words to live by (even if that is a cliche’). Picture Snoopy again. Despite all that is going on around him, all the woes that Charlie Brown experiences, all the sage advice that Lucy gives, all the security Linus needs, there is Snoopy breaking out in dance. Snoopy does not fret or worry, he must be praying and letting God manage it all. He, then, is free to go out in the world and celebrate the day.
Which lifestyle is more appealing? Is it better to be busy all the time, grumbling about all the ills of your world or is it better to do the best you can and find joy in the little things, celebrate and let God manage the tough stuff? The words from the two scriptures really spoke loud and clear to me. I know all the rough stuff is right out the front door, but I sure would hate living a life trampled down by worry and fretting. Having God on my side lets me live a life filled with joy.
Snoopy knows just what the psalmist did:
For God is sheer beauty,
all-generous in love,
loyal always and ever.
The response to that is thanksgiving. Thank you, God, for giving us this wonderful, ever-changing world, filled with family and friends, bountiful and beautiful, and always surprising. This is Thanksgiving, and Snoopy is dancing for joy, praising God, loving his family, giving to others, and receiving love, God’s love, in return. If Snoopy can do it, so can I.
The holiday season is here, we start with Thanksgiving as we end the Christian year. Yet, the holiday does not end, it simply slides right into Advent. The Advent season prepares us for the celebration of Christ’s birth. We give thanks, but then we have to do our best to stay connected to the reason—pardon me—for the season: the celebration of Christ Jesus’s birth over 2,000 years ago.
As Paul was writing the Philippians, he began summing up his advice with verses 8-9:
- do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious
- Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized.
Isn’t that really the best advice we can be given? Isn’t that the method to living a happy, joyful life? Isn’t that following God’s commandment: love one another with all your heart and soul? Isn’t that why Snoopy dances? Isn’t that why I can dance, too, figuratively speaking of course?
The psalmist in the Old Testament knew what it took to live in a complex, tough world. Still they loved God and gave thanksgiving, too. Are we not connected to God through all the experiences we have, through all the history we learn, and through the words of the Old Testament and the New Testament? Are we not gifted with the ability to read, experience, and learn how God loves us? As Methodists, we follow that process and then know that it is possible to transform a world by loving one another.
This week the password is “Thank you, God!” as the psalm tells us. This is the week to, as Psalm 100 says, “Make yourselves at home, talking praise. Thank him. Worship him.” And as we end the week, we start the Advent season. While we are still dancing for joy and praising God as Snoopy demonstrates to us, we begin a season of preparation for the next celebration. Put into practice Paul’s instructions which deserve repeating:
Summing all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies. –Philippians 4:8-9
Snoopy can do it, and so can I. As we open the doors to leave today, let’s go out doing a little dance of thanksgiving. We are so blessed and sometimes we just need to be reminded of that. We are so busy and this week we need to take a little rest. And on Thursday, as you sit down to eat, lift a prayer of thanksgiving to God.
Dear All Gracious, All Knowing, and All Loving God,
Hear our prayers of thanksgiving this week. We thank you for all the gifts you provide us whether it be the food on the tables, the clean air that we breathe, the brilliant sunshine that lights our days, or even the restful nights with stars twinkling above. Thank you, too, for the generations of your faithful who have paved the roads of life for us. Thank you for the psalmists and the disciples who worked so hard to guide us to a God-filled life. Thank you for a society that allows us the freedom to believe, the freedom to live independently, the freedom to love one another. And thank you, too, for even the small, little, even silly images that can lead us in our faith journey as we learn to love God, to love life, and to love one another. If Snoopy can do it, so can we. –Amen