Fidget spinners. You’ve heard of these, haven’t you? They are one of the hottest toys of 2017. Fidget spinners are just that—these little paddle-shaped blades attached to a central core you squeeze and flick to spin. These toys though have generated controversy. Some schools ban them as a distraction and a hazard. But others see them as something that will occupy and contain their children.
Nonetheless, they are a fad, and over time, the fad will fade and fidget spinners will gather dust along with hula hoops, troll dolls, Beanie Babies and jelly shoes—although my wife is determined to bring back jelly shoes.
Which just goes to show that fads are not limited to children. Adults are equally susceptible to fads. Don’t believe me— Two words: pet rocks. In the mid-70’s, during a six-month period, 1.5 million pet rocks were sold. These smooth stones were sold in cardboard boxes with breathing holes and a nest of straw. They were rocks! And sane, normal people— teachers, lawyers, doctors, pastors— went to work where they had a pet rock on their desk.
Razor Scooters, Livestrong wristbands, WWJD bracelets, Heelys, flash mobs, “Vote for Pedro” T-shirts, speed dating, Angry Birds, Duck Dynasty, Fifty Shades of Grey, planking, Tebowing, Boy Bands, Furby, Oxygen bars, Pogs, and the “Macarena”—which again my wife is determined to bring back—all fads that faded away.
Fads are “ intense but short-lived interests; a temporary fashion, notion, manner of conduct, or craze, especially one followed enthusiastically by a group.” Bottom Line: Fads, no matter how intensely and enthusiastically followed, always fade. Today’s fad will, inevitably, become tomorrow’s eye roll.
Last year the big “must have” Christmas gift, upon which the hopes and dreams of Christmas rested, was the “Hatchamole.” I am both proud and embarrassed to say I have no idea what this year’s “must have” gifve is. Proud because I don’t know. Embarrassed because my kids won’t be getting whatever it is.
But what we need to do is not figure out what is today’s fad, but rather what is yesterday’s, today’s, and tomorrow’s foundation.
The church though isn’t immune to fads. The apocalyptic elements of Scripture— Daniel, Revelation and some of the words of Jesus— have been seized by some theologians and preachers in an almost faddish fashion. Just look at church history.
The Anabaptists of the 1530’s who revolted in Munster, Germany and hailed it as a New Jerusalem to await Christ’s return. The Millerites of the early 1840’s who took to the mountains by the thousands to await the return of Christ. The Branch Davidians of 1993 in Waco, Texas. The Left Behind books and movies. Y2K. And this only scratches the surface of apocalyptic fever that has raged through the human community over the millennia.
More recently, in 2011, the “end times” and the return of Christ caught the attention of the world via radio preacher Harold Camping. Camping studied the Bible and came to the conclusion the world would end May 21, 2011. After sharing with listeners his prediction, which included an estimated 7 billion people would die, he used millions of dollars of their donations to put his message on thousands of billboards around the country.
Well, May 21, 2011 came and went with no rapture which astonished and disappointed Camping’s followers, leading many to denounce him as a false prophet. So Camping amended the date to October 21 2011.
I think Camping, in all his Biblical study, failed to read verse Mark 13:32: “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
Clearly, fads come and go, whether they involve fidget spinners or biblical prophecies. But the truth is nothing really endures. Jesus himself said that absolutely everything will pass away, including “heaven and earth.” Everything will fade and disappear. Everything will come and go. Everything except one thing… The word of God. That is what Jesus tells us in the Gospel of Mark. Everything is fad, everything will fade, everything except the word of God.
The Gospel of Mark is known to be the first Gospel written. It holds and foretells some of those apocalyptic preachings that many misinterpreted, yet are important aspects to focus on during our Advent preparations.
Unfortunately, the gospel of Mark only tells us that Jesus “went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message” (1:39), but then he skips over three chapters of teachings that appear in the gospel of Matthew.
Which is why we hear from both Mark and Matthew today. Mark tells us the word of God will not pass away, while Matthew gives us call to build a life with those words as its foundation. Matthew tells us Jesus says, “Do not resist an evildoer … give your cloak … go also the second mile … give to everyone who begs from you … love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus offers words that are foundational for the Christian life. But such words are difficult to hear and to follow.
Jesus begins by saying, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’”—which makes perfect sense to us. After all, we live with a justice system which generally follows the conventional wisdom that the punishment should fit the crime. It only seems fair to take “an eye for an eye.”
But the immutable and eternal words of Jesus point to a different reality: God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good.” Which is to say, everyone—evil and good, righteous and unrighteous—is a child of God. God loves all of God’s children and provides for them, whether they are saints or sinners.
Our job, as Christians, is not to follow fads that tend to lift some people up and bring others down. Rather, we are to love other people as God loves them, seeing the image of God in people who may look ungodly to us.
Drifting into sarcasm, Jesus asks, “If you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” In other words, if you only love your friends and family members, what have you accomplished? Anyone can do that—even the corrupt tax collectors of the Roman Empire.
“Give your cloak. Go also the second mile,” Jesus says. Show your neighbors you love them so much that you will literally give them the coat off your back. Demonstrate that you are seeing God so clearly in them that you will walk a great distance with them. Such generosity is not faddish; it’s foundational.
Look an oppressive Roman soldier in the eye and see the image of God in him. Carry his gear farther than the law allows, so that he will be forced to see you as a person, not a pack animal. Make him so uncomfortable that he will have to wrestle his gear out of your hands and take it back to avoid breaking the law! The words of Jesus are foundational…and at times they can be amusingly cunning.
“Give to everyone who begs from you,” says Jesus. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
In each of these commands we are being challenged to see other people in a new light— in the light of Jesus’ words. As we walk in this way, we begin to see all people as children of God, and as people who carry inside them the image of God. Even the people we can’t stand.
None of this is easy. And it’s not easy because what Jesus says is never faddish. Instead, it is foundational for Christian living, and it is the key to following the words and ways that last forever
Fads, by definition, will fade. Indeed, everything is doomed to disappear. Everything except the words of Jesus—“My words will not pass away,” Jesus says.
The word of God is our solid foundation in an ever-changing world, which means it is an imperative to have a solid, unwavering foundation upon which to build our lives.
Do we want to build lives on fads—“a short lived temporary notion or craze”?
Or do we want to build lives on a foundation of God’s words lived out by the Prince of Peace?
Yes, fads can be fun and make for tender Christmas memories and antics—and that’s ok—as long as we keep the perspective that the fads around us will fade and that the words of Christ are what will truly last and will have the greatest impact on our lives and on those around us.
So as we move further into the season of Advent, may we be cautious what we are building our Christmas expectations and Christmas wishes on. May we build our lives, our hopes, our dreams on a more solid foundation than a fidget spinner. Amen.