My favorite sermon title ever: “Why Thanksgiving Always Comes Before Christmas.”
Each year this has new meaning for me. One year, it was the poster of things our family was thankful for. One year, it was thankful things on slips of paper in the turkey centerpiece. One year it was the photo of the ultrasound that would be my third child. We are a very small family, so it tends to be a quiet unassuming time.
This year was different, we were filmed. Our every preparation was documented on video, even time lapse photography of the dough rising for the dinner rolls. We didn’t dare make a move in the kitchen without alerting our daughter that we were about to…whatever. Did she want to record it? It’s funny what you do when you know you’ll be on film.
The irony was, all this footage was for juxtaposition. As backdrop to the events of the next morning. Her plan was to set up in the dark and cold on Black Friday morning and record time lapse photos of shoppers entering and leaving the Target against the rise of the sun in a very cold day after Thanksgiving. Her theme: what you miss out on when you hurry to Friday.
Time lapse is a fascinating thing to watch. Hours collapsed into seconds. Days into minutes. Years into hours. A whole lifetime, in a movie seating. The camera doesn’t select the best or the most memorable, it just marches on click-clicking. It records snapshots and compresses them into a living video. What would such a video of my life look like? Non-selective, random, regular recording. Sun rise and sun set. Day in and day out.
The things best recorded and most in focus would be the stopping times. Those moments when I paused long enough to consider, to pray, perhaps to help or to devote or to sit beside. Perhaps I would be recognized by the things repeated, that would be defined in the overlay. Things I did again and again, year after year. I hope thanksgiving would be one of these things.
It seems different every year, but it’s the one thing – perhaps the only thing – that we can agree on in our country; that we stop and give thanks on the 4th Thursday of November each year. But even that I see changing, as Black Friday sales have slipped into Thanksgiving Thursday evening hours. The moments spent with family – are they stolen? reinvented? compressed to make room? For sure, they are ruining the overlay.
Neighbors on our street crack me up. They have inflatables for all seasons: a jack-o-lantern, an Easter bunny, a snow globe snowing on snowmen. Last year there was one turkey; this year there were five. Mom, pop, and the three kids. (Who needs window stickers when you have inflatables?)
I chuckled to see the new additions on Thursday.
Today, the Saturday after Thanksgiving, they have a new arrangement. A line of turkeys marching away from the corner. Presumably, away from Thanksgiving. What if, instead of bidding farewell to thanks, we let it lead us through the whole holiday season?
I think that was what Pastor Phil meant by that Sunday sermon. We always have Thanksgiving before Christmas because what a thankful people we are to have a Savior coming into the world yet again. A world grown darker since last year. A world even more self-sufficient. A world wrapped up in itself. Where Black Friday seeps into Thanksgiving Thursday because the stores are “just giving people what they want. More time to spend.”
Perhaps they have miscalculated. There is no such thing as more time. It is measured the same for all of us. There is however, time well spent.
What a documentary film our lives are making, recorded on heaven’s video, as time marches on and we lapse. Then repent. Thanks be to God for His one and only Son, here to set us right once again.
Perspective isn’t everything, but it may be the only thing. Certainly the only resource I have to make sense of the world I travel through. To it, I bring my experiences, my memory, my knowledge, and my history. Then I reflect and decide to act or not to act. This is what we all do. We have to do. Can’t do otherwise. We bring what we’ve got to the plate and take our swings.
Oh, there’s an objectiveness to things. Some things are gauged by measurables. How fast is the pitch? How low/high is the temperature? How loud is the crowd? But then there’s that ornery man dressed in black behind the plate who calls balls and strikes. He’s trained for this. Not meant to call me out, but simply to judge whether the pitch is in the strike zone. Because if it is, I only get three of those. If I don’t swing, that’s my problem. No arguing. I’m out.
It just seems reasonable, then, that if there is a strike zone and if there is an umpire and I only get three whacks at it, that I would give myself every advantage I could. I’d practice with bat and ball. Test myself against pitchers who throw hard or have great breaking balls or sliders or change ups. Whatever I might see in my at bat, I’d wanna see in practice. Perhaps I would even invite a batting coach to tell me if there were flaws in my swing. Am I dropping my shoulder or taking my eye off the ball or winging my back elbow? I’d want to know so I could correct these things.
The one thing I wouldn’t do is close my eyes or take my eye off the ball. I would open them wide and shine as much light on the game as I could. I’d want to see what I was up against to make the best swing at the best pitch I could.
I just wonder, with all of our practicing and preparing, are we getting any better at this game? Since we get multiple at bats (the better our team, the more at bats we get) are we hitting it more often? getting extra base hits or home runs or hitting better with runners in scoring position? What is our average? Are we improving?
It’s hard to tell. Because ‘things have changed.’ The equipment and the training are different. New and improved. So, with all the latest upgrades we should be better, right? We would do well to beware that the new is being applied by both sides, and the measure of our performance is relative to this. How well do we bat against that pitcher, under those circumstances, at that point in the season? So it’s hard to say if we’re getting better. Against the pitchers of yesteryear, who knows?
What we are told is this: to stay competitive in today’s game, we have to keep up. If we fall behind, we’re lost. Even if remaining competitive means we have to keep increasing our hours, keep scouting our opponents, keep training in case they are, keep doing the more that “is necessary” to stay on top.
And from inside the game, this is a very steep slide. In order to gain ground, we find ourselves clawing to keep from losing it. As if the playing field were being tipped ever so slowly to one side, we dig our fingers under home plate, dearly hoping that it is anchored to the ground and won’t give way under our weight.
What I fear is, we are people in a game where everything tips. Everything has become negotiable, on sale, or it might go on sale so we better be ready. We have the upgrades and the technology. Instant access and perpetual information. We have resources at our fingertips. Anything can be delivered online 24/7. Are we making any progress?
The smart hitter steps out of the batter’s box for a moment to pause and re-group. Consider the game situation, get the signs from the coach, grip and swing the bat in practice before standing in again. From a step away things may look just enough different that he can gain new perspective, or he may calm himself just enough to see the pitch a bit more clearly.
I am one step away from yesterday, thanks-giving Day. It is Black Friday. A day to rush for the bargains advertised by the marketers who want us to spend in their stores right away because once we get spending we will have trouble stopping. Or not. Check that swing? Not so easy, once we’ve built momentum. Before we know it we’ve gone around for the strike; the third base umpire says so. Are we any better hitters? Or are the stadium lights just getting so dim that we can’t see that the field is tipping?
We might do well to defend the plate, so we can fend off those pitches that come close to home. And lay off the tempting ones up around our eye balls that dare us to swing. Those Black Friday sales come to mind.
The way I see it, Christmas is still December 25th. The retailers are lobbing pitches out of the strike zone. I’m waiting on my pitch. Let ’em throw strikes.