December 13, 2020
Union University Church
Reverend Laurie DeMott
In “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” Lucy says to Charlie Brown, “Look, Charlie, let’s face it. We all know that Christmas is a big commercial racket. It’s run by a big eastern syndicate,” she whispers.
Lucy would have felt right at home on today’s internet where promoting wild conspiracy theories about secret syndicates and cabals has become a kind of parlor game for those stuck at home during the pandemic. Browse the internet and you will read, for example, the claim that Covid-19 was secretly released on the world by the Disney company in order to shut everyone in their houses and increase demand to the new Disney Plus channel. Another popular conspiracy theory is that our spate of problems is caused by shape-shifting reptilian aliens. Many of our world leaders, this theory says, are in fact lizard people in disguise working on their plot to take over our world.
Now, I want to say very clearly that I do not believe these conspiracy theories. It may seem unnecessary for me to make this disclaimer but these theories, as wild as they are, are unbelievably popular because in a world where the cards feel stacked against you, where people act in ways you don’t understand, and where you feel powerless to control your own destiny, it is tempting to believe that you are simply the pawn in some large game of chess between opponents you can’t even see. For some people any explanation for their suffering, no matter how bizarre, is better than no explanation because if you can’t explain the reason for your suffering, then how can you control your destiny? Better, they decide, to believe that lizard people are pulling the strings than to accept that sometimes bad things just happen or sometimes things just don’t go the way we want them to go. We hate to accept that we are not always the ones in charge; we hate to believe that our bodies may succumb to illness in spite of our careful diets and exercise plans; we hate to discover that we can’t always will good things for our future through the power of positive thinking. Conspiracy theories help us to avoid our sense of helplessness by giving us enemies to blame and battles to fight.
We might wave off conspiracy theories about eastern syndicates or lizard people as ludicrous fantasies but Christians have our own form of conspiracy theory couched in the language of cosmic battles between God and Satan. In this vision of the world, Satan is lurking around every corner trying to win you over to his side while God’s angels do battle for your soul. The job of the Christian, they say, is to fight the forces of evil by slapping down Satan in all of his guises, and wrenching control from his hands. In this understanding of Christianity, the world is at war and we are the foot soldiers in Christ’s army, marching not for peace and compassion but to rid the world of those we believe are aligned with Satan against us. This view of Christ has very little to do with the Jesus of Nazareth who turned the other cheek to his detractors and preached love to our enemies, and yet it has remained popular among Christians because like most conspiracy theories, it gives people an explanation for the bad things that are happening and it gives them a false sense of control.
“The devil is the reason I suffer,” they say, “and I will fight him so that I might be free to live in a world of my own choosing.”
Robert Vischer, of the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis, says, “Conspiracy theories are attractive because they help us feel in control. Rather than face a randomly occurring virus that is wreaking havoc on our lives, we see a grand battle against the forces of evil. [However,]” he adds, “Feeling in control of what’s happening in the world was never among God’s promises. Instead, [God] promises us [God’s] self, which should be all the assurance we need, even when the world feels completely out of control.”
The story of Christmas proclaims that when God chose to send Christ to us, Christ appeared not as a military leader or a political ruler but as a small, weak, and powerless baby, and as Jesus grew to a man, he continued to demonstrate salvation not through conquest and force but through service, through healing, and through the giving of himself to us. The story of our salvation that began as a baby in a stable ended on a cross so that God could declare in no uncertain terms from the beginning to the end — from the alpha to the omega — that our salvation comes not through power and might and control but through the giving of oneself for others. Has any human attempt to bend the world to our desires ever led to true and lasting peace? No; the way to wholeness and peace is through a compassion so great that it gives everything, even life itself, for others. In the famous words from Isaiah 9, the prophet says, “For unto you a child is born, and his name will be called, Wonderful Counselor, Strong God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” The word translated in that passage as “peace” is the same word in Hebrew that is used to describe healing, salvation, and wholeness, and so it is no wonder that the early church looked at Jesus and saw in him the embodiment of Isaiah’s words: “Jesus is the Prince of Peace, the Prince of Healing, the Prince of Wholeness, the Prince of our salvation.”
“Feeling in control of what’s happening in the world was never among God’s promises. Instead, [God] promises us [God’s] self, which should be all the assurance we need, even when the world feels completely out of control.”
Jesus didn’t promise definitive explanations to why bad things happen to good people, nor did he promise a way of making sure those bad things won’t happen to us. Sometimes life hurts, and our faith, no matter how strong, can’t change that, but what Christ did promise was himself. He promised us a love so complete that it can heal the deep wounds caused by the uncaring capricious fates of the world. He promised that when we are left in pieces by the storms of life, he will hold us until we can stand once more. God didn’t send us a storm trooper Messiah but a baby in a manger who would grow to be a man who healed the sick, who cared for the poor, who smiled at the friendless over dinner, who helped the weak to walk, and who forgave our sins. Christmas wasn’t developed by a big eastern syndicate but was given to us by a loving God who wanted to assure us neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. He is the Prince of our Wholeness, the Prince of our Healing, the Prince of our Salvation; the Prince of Peace.