Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | December 11, 2011

Central United …

Central United Methodist Church

 “Transitional Objects”

Pastor David L. Haley

December 11t, 2011

  

“There once was a man, his name John, sent by God to point out the way to the Life-Light. He came to show everyone where to look, who to believe in. John was not himself the Light; he was there to show the way to the Light.

When Jews from Jerusalem sent a group of priests and officials to ask John who he was, he was completely honest. He didn’t evade the question. He told the plain truth: “I am not the Messiah.”

They pressed him, “Who, then? Elijah?”

“I am not.”

“The Prophet?”

“No.”

Exasperated, they said, “Who, then? We need an answer for those who sent us. Tell us something — anything! — about yourself.”

“I’m thunder in the desert: ‘Make the road straight for God!’ I’m doing what the prophet Isaiah preached.”

Those sent to question him were from the Pharisee party. Now they had a question of their own: “If you’re neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet, why do you baptize?”

John answered, “I only baptize using water. A person you don’t recognize has taken his stand in your midst. He comes after me, but he is not in second place to me. I’m not even worthy to hold his coat for him.”

These conversations took place in Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing at the time.” – John 1:  – 8, 19 – 28 The Message

 

 

What was your “transitional object?” Was it a blankie or a teddy bear?

What ratty, scruffy, ripped, dirty, never-out-of-your-sight-or-out-of-your-grip security item got you through your childhood?

  • In bed, when everything was dark and scary-looking, when monsters lurked under your bed . . . it was there for you.
  • On long trips, when the surroundings were unfamiliar . . . it was there for you.
  • When Mom and Dad were gone, the babysitter was uninteresting, and your brothers and sisters were annoying or abusive . . . it was there for you.
  • When you faced all those firsts — your first overnight, your first trip to the dentist or doctor, your first day of school, your first airplane flight, your first camp-out (or your first day at college or on the new job) . . . it was there for you.
  • When parents fought, loved ones died, fever raged, or tensions rose . . . it was there for you.

You may still have your security-blanket tucked away somewhere (just in case), with other childhood items and memorabilia.  Maybe you haven’t seen it for years.  But isn’t it amazing how such items retain their magical power to calm, soothe, and restore, long after we’ve supposedly outgrown them?   Pick up and hold one of your own — or your children’s — old bedraggled stuffed animals or baby blankets.  I guarantee you’ll feel warmth and comfort ooze out of it, through your pores, into your bloodstream, and straight to your heart.

That warmth and comfort is left-over love, of course. That’s what childhood security blankets did for us — they acted as handy, portable, touchable transmitters of love in our lives.  Psychiatrists call such stuffed animals, blankies, babies, or whatever they may be “transitional objects” — a cold, clinical word for a warm fuzzy.

Transitional objects, the experts say, help young children to simplify and concretize the love, affection, and security they need.  In loving, nurturing households these transitional objects soak up the love and give that emotion a furry tail, a fluffy cushion, or a cuddly fabric to hold on to. In households where love is scrimped and abuse is present, sadly, the transitional object itself may become the source of that scarce commodity.

While we adults don’t often tote around teddy bears or squares of flannel like Linus’ security blanket in Peanuts, don’t let that convince you we grown-ups don’t cling to transitional objects of our own. Some with serious downsides — like alcohol, tobacco, or drugs — come to mind.

During the holidays we turn to more benign forms of transitional objects to remind us of the love we have known and that we seek. Instead of moth-eaten blankets, we find comfort and love in our cherished traditions and memories of Christmas.

The rituals of what we do and when, such as when we get the Christmas tree or open the gifts or what we eat, become transitional rituals to get us through the holiday.

Scarred and cracked ornaments — no longer ornamental — are again arranged in places of honor because they have become transitional objects, representing more than just decoration.

Whether gluing back together a crushed creche, enduring a feast of “traditional” ethnic foods (such as lutefisk), or laboring to get over-tired, over-wired children to a Christmas Eve church services — we do all sorts of weird, unreasonable, seemingly senseless things throughout the holidays, in order to create an atmosphere of expectation and an aura of love.  We use the things of Christmas as transitional objects for the meaning and fulfillment we seek in our lives.

Truth be told, God is an advocate of transitional objects. God’s love is so vast, God’s dream for creation so dramatic, that finite beings like ourselves can never grasp its height, depth, length, or breadth. So God gives us transitional objects to help us prepare for and receive the greater love that awaits us.

John the Baptist — or John the Witness, as he might be better called in John’s Gospel — is a perfect example of one of the great transitional objects God allowed people to experience.  John’s whole reason-for-being was to point away from himself toward the one who was to come — the Messiah, the Christ, the Light of the World, the Love of God made visible.

John the Witness preached that God was about to step into human history and into the lives of men and women. Standing up to his hips in Jordan’s waters, uncouth and unkempt, smelling like someone who wears wet camel’s hair would likely smell, John must have shaken his tangled mane in frustration when people kept asking if he himself was the Messiah.

“Of course not!” he would shout. “Do I look like, feel like, talk like, or smell like, the Light of the World!?”

What John was, what he knew he was and what he claimed to be, was a “transitional object”, a finger pointing to the One of whom he felt unworthy, so much as even to untie the thong of his sandal.

The Gospel of John describes this coming One in inimitable terms. It calls him the Logos, the Word, the True Light coming into the world who enlightens everyone, of whose grace we have all received.

But before the arrival of the Word, God sends first this gruff, unsophisticated voice to get us ready. Before the coming of the True Light, God sends the searchlight of John, as a glimmer of the Light dawning. His job is not to get everything decorated and everyone ready for Christmas, but to “Prepare the way of the Lord.” He came to point to the Light of God, to remind all who would listen, that the dark forces of the world are not finally as powerful as they appear, that even the dark places of life are illuminated by “the Word who became flesh and lived among us, full of grace and truth.

Whether we know it or not, whether we want to admit it or not, we too are “transitional objects,” pointing with our lives to something, the question is “What?” To ourselves?  To things? To truth and beauty?  Or to the Light of the World, who coming into the world, enlightens everyone?  Sometimes, we even get caught up with the finger pointing, and not the One the finger points to.

In which case we should repeat the anti-confession John taught us, which we sometimes forget: “I am not the Messiah.”

In all humility, we – like John – are “transitional objects,” pointing beyond ourselves, to something greater.

  • God calls us to be “transitional objects” for the children God has given us, our love becoming an embodiment and reflection of the greater love God has for them, pointing them to the One who will be with them long after we are gone.
  • God calls us to be “transitional objects” of Love for those in this life to whom love is a stranger, to whom God seems far away.
  • God calls us to be “transitional objects,” speaking words of comfort and encouragement for those who live alone or in silence, who long for an incarnate word of God.
  • God calls us to be “transitional objects” of Light, for those who live in the darkness of suffering, loneliness, or lostness.

Can you see yourself in this way?

The German theologian Karl Barth was arguably the greatest theologian of the 20th century. From 1921 until his death in 1968, he kept over his desk a copy of a painting by the 16th century German artist, Matthias Grünewald (1470-1528).

Matthias Grunewald Crucifixtion Painting

Matthias Grunewald Crucifixtion Painting

In the painting, the crucified Christ hangs in the center of the picture and to one side stands John the Baptist “with his hand,” as Barth said, “pointing to Jesus in almost impossible way.” The reason Barth kept this painting before him, was because John’s hand pointing to Jesus was Barth’s model for himself. And, not only for himself, but for all Christian believers, like you and like me.

Will you be a transitional object this Advent, and in the year to come? Will you point beyond yourself to Jesus, the Light of the World, who was, and is, and is to come?

[Note:  For this sermon I am indebted to Leonard Sweet, for sermon materials upon this theme presented in Homiletics (now Preaching Unleashed), in 2002.]

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