Matthew 5:14-16, 43-47
Of the many versions of A Christmas Carol, the 1992 film A Muppet Christmas Carol is probably—no offense to Charles Dickens and his original work—the greatest. Why? Take your pick. The Muppets on their A-game. Michael Caine as Ebenezer Scrooge. Some genuinely good musical numbers. A perfect balance of Christmas festiveness and holiday melancholy with the right amount of trademark Muppet humor to keep it all in check.
But the ace in the hole was having Gonzo the Great narrate the story as Charles Dickens with side commentary from his friend Rizzo the Rat. One of my favorite bits is an argument the two have over the omniscience of the narrator. It's probably the first time I was exposed to meta humor.
There is a scene about midway through the movie in which Gonzo is recounting what is happening in the story as he attempts to light a street lamp. Yet instead of igniting the wick inside the lamp, he catches his friend's tail on fire. In a panic, Rizzo exclaims, "Light the lamp! Not the rat! Light the lamp! Not the rat!" To save his friend, "Mr. Dickens" shoves Rizzo off the ledge and into a bucket of frigid water below. It's a funny albeit throwaway piece of slapstick. Yet it has stuck with me since I was nine.
Jesus told his followers that they were the light of the world. As such, they should live in such a way that others would see that light and give glory to God. We are supposed to be lighting lamps everywhere we go.
This past Friday, the president of Liberty University—a massive Christian school in Virginia—was talking to his student body about the terror attack that transpired earlier that week in California. Jerry Falwell, Jr. called on students to get permits to carry concealed weapons and remarked, "Let's teach them a lesson if they ever show up here." He continued, "I've always thought if more good people had concealed carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in." Some in the crowd cheered these comments and again when Falwell mentioned having a gun in his back pocket.
Two things. First, there were definitely many in that crowd who did not cheer. Us versus them narratives suggest we write off the whole school after a moment like that. Let's not do that. I know a few people who have graduated from Liberty and they are amazing folks. Secondly, Falwell—God bless him—probably believes that he is following God by doing this. In his mind, I'm sure that he's trying to protect lives.
But that's the thing. Many times we as Christians think we're following God when we've actually gotten our wires crossed. Jesus did not preach violence. He was a victim of violence. He actually preached that we should love our enemies. Now I realize that issues of violence, justice, and non-violent resistance are complicated especially in this age of terrorism. But if the go-to answer is to put a gun in every Christian's hand so we can blow away the enemy and if that answer is applauded, then something is seriously screwed up.
And it seems like we keep finding ways to screw things up. Like when we demand non-Christians say "Merry Christmas" during this time of year. Like when we paint all Muslims as would-be terrorists. Like when we try to take away someone's voice because they don't fit into one of our pre-approved categories. The list could go on.
When we do this, we think that we're lighting lamps, but we're setting fire to our neighbors and our friends. It's not a throwaway piece of slapstick in those instances but something that profoundly warps how this world understands the God we say we represent. The world does not need that kind of light.
The world needs the light of Jesus. It needs the light of humble, imperfect people who follow Immanuel, God with us. It needs people who light the lamp, not set fire to our neighbors.