Many people come to me in a day with, “now I know you’re busy.” Busy-ness, I would like to contend, is a problem for Christians; I’d even go so far as to call it a sin. Ebeneezer Scrooge, for example, is the epitome of busy-ness:
“At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”
“Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.
“Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.
“And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”
“They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.”
“The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?” said Scrooge.
“Both very busy, sir.”
“Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,” said Scrooge. “I’m very glad to hear it.”
“Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude,” returned the gentleman, “a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?”
“Nothing!” Scrooge replied.
“You wish to be anonymous?”
“I wish to be left alone,” said Scrooge. “Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned—they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.”
“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”
“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. Besides—excuse me—I don’t know that.”
“But you might know it,” observed the gentleman.
“It’s not my business,” Scrooge returned. “It’s enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people’s. Mine occupies me constantly. Good afternoon, gentlemen!”
Charles Dickens reminds us that Scrooge always was a good man of business. Scrooge says, “My business occupies me constantly.” And so, being too busy, he ignores the most important thing he can do with his day: helping others in need.
What is business, really, but busy-ness? What is business, if not taking up our schedules with work that makes us busy? Ultimately, I submit to you, busy-ness is sinful, because it distracts us from Jesus Christ. I am reminded of the story of Mary and Martha. In Luke 10:
But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.” But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! 42 There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Now, at Christmastime, which are you: Mary or Martha? Are you distracted by busy-ness? Or are you looking to the one thing that matters, sitting at the feet of Christ?
I admit that this is a great struggle for me. My tendency is to live by what I heard described as the tyranny of the urgent. Whatever most needs to be accomplished—whether it be a sick parishioner or the sermon that needs to be preached on Sunday or the crying baby—that’s what I take care of, and I don’t tend to read a lot of books, or take time for exercise, or spend as much time in quiet reflection like I really need to do. That’s why I’m so thankful that God forces me to sit down, once a week, and reflect on Scripture; to sit at the feet of Jesus.
Sitting at the feet of Jesus is paramount for preachers. Today, we contemplate Paul’s pastoral letter to Timothy, who was the bishop of Ephesus. Ephesus was a notoriously sinful city, the home of the temple of Artemis, and the place where Paul got into a huge conflict with the silversmiths, and later fought with animals. It was a place where magical thinking and superstition reigned. So Timothy, as its bishop, had an uphill battle. Does that sound something like the world we are living in today, in which people are engaged in every kind of idol worship, and the silversmiths are in charge? Because of the uphill battle Timothy faces, it is of primary importance that Timothy keeps Christ, and nothing else, at the center of his life and worship.
Paul describes the life Timothy must live:
2 Tim 2:3-4: Endure suffering along with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 Soldiers don’t get tied up in the affairs of civilian life, for then they cannot please the officer who enlisted them.
This fall I studied the law of armed conflict, and the distinction between a soldier and a civilian is central to that law. Once you are a soldier, your status as a person changes. You no longer stand for yourself, but as a representative or agent of the force that deployed you. Soldiers can be targeted; civilians can’t. Thinking about this from a spiritual perspective, once you become a Christian, you are now a target of the enemy. Furthermore, one thing in the law of armed conflict that differentiates an army from a band of rebels is the degree of structure of the armed forces. In a military, you expect a command structure. That’s what Paul says here as well; your job is to please the officer who enlisted you, in this case, Christ. For that reason, you cannot live as a civilian any longer. You must not be tied up in your own business. A soldier’s time is not his own. You must instead, as a good soldier, face every day thinking about your mission; to glorify Christ in all you do.
The second example Paul uses is the example of the athlete.
2 Tim 3:5: And athletes cannot win the prize unless they follow the rules.
Athletes’ time is not their own, and they are not in charge of the structure of the contest. Rather, they must train and prepare for the contest according to the rules of the game. Clocks and timing are very important in sports; there’s always the game clock, the play clock, to be thinking about. You can’t get distracted and forget your object; sometimes, you have to take the shot, make the snap, get the play going. The same way, we as Christians can’t get distracted by other business; instead, we have to remain focused on the contest at hand.
The third example Paul uses is the example of the farmer.
2 Tim 3:6: And hardworking farmers should be the first to enjoy the fruit of their labor.
Farmers understand time, because their work is determined by the seasons of the year. They understand patience, and living based on God’s time rather than their own. Farmers cannot get distracted by the business of life; when it’s harvest time, they must hurry up and get the crops in immediately. However, farmers also get to enjoy the fruit of their labor. Here, Paul means that Timothy must enjoy Christ, and spend time himself deepening his relationship with Christ, so that he can enjoy the fruit of new life.
Paul gives the Gospel in one sentence:
2 Tim 3:8: Always remember that Jesus Christ, a descendant of King David, was raised from the dead. This is the Good News I preach.
The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the truth that all of Scripture leads up to. As God was working through the Torah, through the prophets and kings, all of it is crowned with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We must never forget the joy and beauty of God’s amazing message that love and life triumph over sin and death. This is the eternal truth we proclaim; none of the rest matters. In Timothy’s community, a lot of people had been distracted by theological arguments:
2 Tim 3:14: Remind everyone about these things, and command them in God’s presence to stop fighting over words. Such arguments are useless, and they can ruin those who hear them.
It can be interesting to talk about whether, in Communion, Christ is spiritually or physically present; or the tension between predestination, free will, and foreknowledge; or how if God is really all-powerful, can he make a rock so big he himself can’t lift it? I have my own answers to these and other questions, and you have yours, but that’s not really important. We’re fighting a war here. We’re running a race. We’re reaping a harvest. We can’t afford to get distracted, to get too involved in theological arguments. It just becomes another form of busy-ness.
Instead, we must stay at the feet of Christ. We must preach Christ, we must proclaim Christ, we must worship Christ, we must imitate Christ. Paul writes,
Paul also, in verse 11-13, quotes an early Christian hymn to remind Timothy that it’s all about living in Christ. These words remind me of the simple hymn: “On Christ the solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand.” My faith is not based on dogma or doctrine, on theology or philosophy; it’s based only in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That God came to us, God died for us, God rose for us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. That’s the truth that captivated me as a child, the one true, great story, the Word of God made flesh, and He is the reason for everything that I do. It’s not Jesus plus political stance, or Jesus plus your view on homosexuality, or Jesus plus your denomination’s statements. What saves us, what gives us hope, the truth worth living for and dying for is Jesus Christ alone.
New Testament scholar John Frederick writes, “For the weary soul struggling with depression, the single parent, the oppressed, the outsider, the forgotten, the lonely, the rejected, and all who carry the burdens of this sinful world, we do not first and foremost offer revisions of dogmas, or defenses of dogmas, or systems of theological facts consisting of an interconnected set of dogmas — we offer them Jesus.”
In this Christmas season, let us not be Scrooges, to worried about matters of business to see the human beings in our midst, to concerned with our busy schedules to make room for Christ, to sit at the feet of Jesus. Instead, today, let us take to heart the words of Timothy—not just the words of 2 Timothy, but also the words of another Tim.
Who said, quite simply, the same truth, the one at the heart of the Gospel, the truth we proclaim today: “God bless us, every one.” So may it be, and may we proclaim this simple truth at Christmas and always.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.