Christmas Eve 2016 – “A Hot Mess”
When I first thought of the title for my Christmas Eve Sermon, “a hot mess”, my thinking was that I wanted to convey the context of our Lord’s incarnation, why God becomes one of us. I wanted to say that God chose willingly to enter into this messy world to be with us. Not because we deserve it but exactly the opposite, because we don’t deserve it. God comes to us because we are a mess and we become stuck in the mess without a Savior. We are still a hot mess…just not stuck in it.
I had heard this phrase “hot mess” used in recent slang. Perfect, I thought for an apt description of our situation. And then, I thought maybe I had better research this phrase a little bit to be sure that I wasn’t using some new provocative sexual terminology, to describe the reason for the Christmas miracle.
When I began my search I found the phrase, “hot mess,” has been around for over 100 years. In the 1800s it would have merely meant “food for soldiers”… like hot mess in the mess hall.
In Latin, “missus” refers to a portion of food, and for centuries its descendant “mess” literally referred to a meal or the amount of food needed to make a meal (“We cut a mess ’a pork here.”) or even the amount of milk a cow gives at one milking (“Ol’ Bess, she gives a good mess.”).
By the early 1900s, Americans were using “hot mess” in a figurative sense, to describe spots of trouble or unpleasant, confusing situations. In a 1912 book about Andrew Jackson, the author describes the former president as a man who “was pretty apt to make a nice hot mess” of things. You know, with that temperament of his.
In the South Midland region of the U.S., encompassing parts of states like Georgia, Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee and Alabama, “mess” is used to describe an “objectionable or foolish person.” Ben Zimmer, executive director at Vocabulary.com, points out that none other than Scarlett O’Hara called Melanie a “mealy-mouthed little mess” in the 1936 novel Gone With the Wind.
However, for hip kids familiar with this slang term today, the operable definition of hot mess would be something like “(n.), someone in obvious disarray or disorganization, esp. while remaining attractive in spite of this.” William Safire wrote in 2008 about “the cleaned-up meaning of hot mess,” has come to mean disheveled or incompetent, disorganized, and distracted.
That is the reason I chose “hot mess” was because this world is disheveled, distracted, and disorganized. I see this as the reason the Christ Child comes into this world and why God becomes one of us. The world, our lives are a “hot mess”. To deny or protest we are not a “hot mess” is to not accept the reality. None of us can claim we are independent and autonomous from the world around us. We cannot remove ourselves from society or the world. We are stuck with what we have and there is no escape. Look at the news… violence, disease, hunger, people turning on people, name calling and scapegoating and death.
To admit we are a hot mess doesn’t mean you approve or condone it we just accept it as reality…only then can we accept that we need a Savior, as we are incapable of being a child of God, simply because our life and our world is a hot mess.
Think for a moment about Luke’s story of the birth of Jesus. The world is not paying attention. Heaven is, but the earth isn’t! There is a census. Rome is in control. People caught up in the times and the things that must be done. So much so, no one cares if there is a suitable place for pregnant women to give birth. In this story only some lowly shepherd’s notice something happening…shepherds who occupy the fringe of society who live in the fields, not who you invite over for dinner. And you ask, what about the choirs of angels singing? Who actually heard these angels singing? No one on this planet! Only heaven heard! The world was too preoccupied with its own problems to notice the birth of a Savior, a God incarnate! God as one of us!
It is still true today…maybe more so…The world and many of us are still too distracted and disorganized to pay attention that God is with us. Our lives are filled with distractions and concerns that pull our attention in other directions. Our own selfish concerns and self-interest (I want to do it myself or I’ll get to God later and What about my needs?) supersede our need for a savior. “So, just tell me what to do? Maybe I’ll get to it.” These are the people who God chooses to be with! We have a God who chooses to be with the people who are not paying attention and a God chooses to be with the people who are lost, oppressed, hurting, and outcast; people who are self-centered and distracted. People who are a hot mess!
We fill Christmas with Carols and candles and words of hope. We make Christmas into a time of joy, happiness and generosity. Just look how many organizations are seek assistance during this time of the year, ASPCA, St. Jude, Wounded Warriors, Shriners, Salvation Army, Hattie Larlham, and even our own church… the list goes on. The commercials pull on your heart strings. And this really is a great time of the year for giving. But the problem is that we want to turn Christmas into a magic night or season of transformation. And it is wonderful when it happens. Remember, Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol. Scrooge has a change of heart and soul over Christmas and lives a life or redemption and charity due to a visit from three ghosts who show him the error of his ways. We love those stories. And there are plenty. Just turn on the Hallmark Channel.
But that isn’t why God becomes one of us. That isn’t the meaning of Christmas. Many people even feel guilty if they don’t have the Christmas Spirit this time of the year. Studies have said the depression actually spikes during the holidays.
We don’t want to see the Tiny Tim’s of our world and if we do we want to fix them. We don’t want to be in this hot mess.
So we definitely don’t want to see a cross on this night. We don’t want to be reminded that the next time Luke talks about bands of cloth it will be when Jesus’ body is wrapped and laid in a tomb.
You know, a couple of my colleagues told me the first decoration on their tree is an iron spike for the crucifixion. That it is some kind of a tradition. I looked it up and it is…no one seems to know where it came from… That is a bit much even for me. What a bring down. We put a pickle in our tree.
It does raise the point. The problem that we have with Christmas isn’t the joy and generosity it evokes. It is the shadow of the cross. We desperately want to fix our world but we can’t. Only God can. All we see is death…But God sees a new beginning.
God does not enter into our world with the intention of turning everyone into saints or because of what we can do for others. God enters into our world for exactly the opposite reason. Because we are a hot mess and we know that people don’t magically change into saints. We need a Savior who can make the lame walk, the blind to see, and deaf to hear, and raise the dead. Someone who preaches good news to the poor and oppressed and who will give his life for those who don’t even know he is here. Christmas isn’t about what we can do for God…it is about what God does for us.
Tonight we celebrate God becoming flesh. We celebrate a God who chooses to come to us even when we are not looking for him. A God who frees us from our own hot mess so we can live for today and tomorrow not bound by sin, death, or guilt, not captive to our own shortcomings and failures.
For to you is born in the City of David is a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord. Every year we celebrate and remember that birth because every year God comes to us in our hot mess to focus our attention on this thing that has happened. Isaiah says, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined.” You are those people. You are the messengers, the angels, and shepherds who will leave this place tonight and tell the world what God has done.
What do you tell them? As the late Paul Tillich said, “You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted!” – Paul Tillich