Christmas Carol Service 2000
'It all goes back in the box'

Anybody here but me notice that the pace of life seems to be accelerating, that what it takes to keep all the plates spinning in your day seems to be getting faster and faster and faster? Domino's became the number one seller of pizzas because they guaranteed they would serve your pizza to you within 30 minutes. The CEO of Domino's said, "We don't sell pizza, we sell delivery." And if you've ever tasted a Domino's pizza... There was an article in the newspaper with a guy who drives for Domino's, and he said when he's in his car driving for Domino's Pizza (he puts that little sign on his car that says "Domino's"), he'll go down the road and cars actually pull off to the side of the road to let him go through, like we used to do for ambulances. We don't do that for ambulances anymore, we do it for Domino's pizza drivers, because we are a people in a hurry. USA TODAY had an article about a hospital in Detroit. Taking a cue from Domino's Pizza, a Detroit hospital guarantees that emergency room patients will be seen within 20 minutes or treatment is free. So far, Doctors' Hospital has delivered. "Since the offer was first made," it says, "business has been up 30 percent." How did Kwik-Fit get to be the world's leading tyre, exhaust and brake specialist? By promising to fit quickly. How did Proctor and Gamble become the number one seller of shampoo? One reason - by putting shampoo and conditioner in the same bottle. Remember all those years when you had to shampoo and then rinse, then condition and rinse. Now it's just all in one bottle. "Wash and go" is their slogan. Number one. If you are old enough to remember, it was 1974 when a new kind of restaurant became very popular in the UK, a restaurant that for the first time in human history sold food not on the basis of its quality, not on the basis even of its price, but on the basis of the speed with which it is served. And we coined a phrase for those kinds of restaurants. We called them "fast food." Fast food. Not good food, not even cheap food. Just fast. But even with fast food restaurants, you still had to park the car and get out of the car and walk all the way inside and order the food and sit down someplace and then throw the stuff away. And all of that took time. So we invented drive-through lanes, so that families could eat in cars as God intended them to. And the beautiful thing about this arrangement is when you're in the car and you haven't got time to go to the fast food restaurant, the children can just scrounge around in the cracks underneath the seats for french fries and gummy bears.

Now do things get better, slower, more peaceful at Christmas time? The shopping arcades are more crowded, airports are busier, and the traffic gets worse. Parties, cards, shopping, eating... And it starts earlier and earlier each year doesn't it. We got our first Christmas card on 1st December. Now my guess is in a church this size, there's probably at least a few people that suffer from a disease that might be called "hurry sickness"--rushaholics, workaholics and so. So here's what we're going to do this evening. We're going to do a mass confession of hurry.. a mass confession of hurry. What I'm going to ask you to do is actually show of hands thing. You're just going to raise your hand and confess. If you're really convicted about this, you might actually want to stand up. Just kind of get if off your chest. It's good for the soul. I'm going to ask you, if you ever experienced hurry, to actually physically go ahead and raise your hand. No, not yet.. hang on. See, this is a perfect example of what I'm talking about right here. Just indulge me a second here. Let me describe it for you, then I'll cure you. If you suffer from this sickness, this hurry sickness, for you there's not enough hours in the day. When you come to a stoplight and there are two lanes, and there is one car at each one of those lanes, if you have this sickness you find yourself calculating which car is it...? You know, you try to assess how recent is the model and the make and all that kind of stuff, who's going to pull away the fastest, and that's who you get behind, if you have this disease. When you go to the supermarket and you're all finished with your trolly full you look at the checkout lines, you count how many people are in the lines. Who has got the shortest line. And you calibrate how much stuff's in all the carts and so on. Which one are you going to get through the fastest? And if you're really sick, if you're really sick, then when you get in this line, you keep track of who would have been you in the line next to you, and you kind of watch as you go through the line together which one's going through fastest, and mentally you pressure the people in front of you. And if the person who would have been you in this other line gets through first and is out the door and you're still standing there, you go away kind of depressed. You lost. If you have this sickness, you are what's called "polyphasic." Polyphasic, that is, you have to be doing more that one thing at the same time. You're driving a car, drinking coffee, listening to the radio, talking on the car phone, signaling and making emotionally cathartic gestures, all at the same time. And if you are a lady, you can also apply mascara with one hand at the same time. All right now, mass confession time, show of hands. How many of you would say, "I suffer from hurry sickness. I've got this disease."? Raise your hands, would you? You sick people. I want to ask you this evening to consider the possibility that your greatest need in life might not be for someone to come along and say, "We can help you move faster." But the very reverse.

A guy comes home from work every day, and he always brings his briefcase. And his son notices this, day after day. So finally his son says to his dad, "Dad, how come you bring your briefcase home every day?" And the dad says, "Well, son, it's because I can't get all my work done during the day at the office." And his son says, "Well, Dad, can't they put you in a slower group?" I have never heard at a funeral service it said of the deceased, that they wished they had spent more time in the office. I want to invite you this Christmas to do a rather radical thing, to consider the possibility that maybe you need to get put in a slower group. Maybe.

As I said this morning, try living for the next week without a watch. Better still, try living without the filofax, mobile phone, email or diary. If Jesus could why can't you? - Just for a week... Slow down and enjoy the taste of each mouthful of the Christmas story, with the people you care about. A colleague of mine, starting out at a new church asked a wise old friend for some advice, "If you had to give me one piece of advice, one thing that I need to watch to make sure that I stay spiritually vital, what would it be?" And this is what he said. He said, "You must eliminate hurry from your life." And there was a long pause. And then my friend said, "Okay, yeah. I got that. I wrote that down. What else? He said, "Nothing else. You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life." If you look at the life of Jesus, you will see a person who was never hurried. He had many things to do. But as He went through life, He arranged His life in such a way, He carved out time for solitude and prayer and so on in such a way that He was always in every moment available to His Father, led by the Spirit. And He was always able to love the people that came into His life. He was never hurried.

Now if you don't take anything else away this evening, I want you to take away those four words: It could be worse. I want you to remember those, so I'm going to ask you to do kind of an unusual thing. I'm going to ask you to say those four words out loud, together with me, so that you'll remember them. All right? "It could be worse."

Now when you leave here and get in your car in the car park or if you were late, a mile down the road, you're going to look at all the other cars and be tempted to think, "If I had --a bigger car, a nicer car, a newer car, a more expensive car-- then I would be content." But tonight at least, you're not going to think that, because tonight when you get into your car you're going to say to yourself with great passion, "It could be worse." With great passion, "It could be worse." And when you drive to your home wherever it is, its going to appear in your headlights and you're going to be tempted to think about somebody else's home. You're going to be tempted to think, "You know, if I lived in another place that was bigger, nicer, newer, more expensive, then I would be content. Then I would have enough." But tonight at least, you're not going to do that. Tonight when you walk through the door you're going to say to yourself with great passion, "It could be worse." Tomorrow morning when you wake up and you roll over and you look at your spouse, you're going to say... No, don't do it. Don't do it. It could be worse.

James Dobson tells this story about how he learnt this lesson. "I learned how to play Monopoly from my grandmother. She was a wonderful person. She raised six children. She was a widow by the time that I knew her. But she was the most ruthless Monopoly player I have ever known in my life. Imagine if Donald Trump had married Leona Helmsley and they'd had a child, and you get some picture of what my grandmother was like when she played Monopoly. She understood that the name of the game was to acquire. When she played and I got my initial money from the bank, I would just try to hold onto it, because I didn't want to lose any of it. She spent everything, bought stuff she landed on as soon as she could, and she'd mortgage it to buy more stuff. And eventually, of course, the way the game goes, eventually she would accumulate everything. She would be the master of the board. She understood that money was how you keep score in that game, that possessions were a matter of survival. And she beat me every time. And at the end of the game she would look at me and she'd say, "One day you'll learn how to play the game." She was kind of cocky, my grandmother. "One day you'll learn how to play the game." When I was about ten, I played every day with a kid that lived in our neighborhood, and it dawned on me as we were playing every day all through that summer the only way to beat somebody in Monopoly was a total commitment to acquisition. That summer I learned how to play the game. And by the time fall rolled around, I was more ruthless by far than even my grandmother. I went to play her, and I was willing to do anything to win. I was willing to bend the rules. I played with sweaty palms. Slowly, cunningly I exposed the soft underbelly of my grandmother's weakness. Relentlessly, inexorably I drove her off the board. The game does strange things to you. I can still remember like yesterday. I looked at my grandmother. This is the person who taught me how to play. She was an old woman by now. She was a widow. She had raised my mother. She loved me. And I took everything she had. I destroyed her financially and psychologically. I watched her give her last dollar and quit in utter defeat. This is the greatest moment of my life. And then she had one more thing to teach me, my grandmother. Then she said to me, "Now it all goes back in the box. All of the houses and hotels, Mayfair and Park Lane, all of those railway stations and utilities, all of that wonderful money. It all goes back in the box," she said. I didn't want it to go back in the box. I wanted to leave the board out permanently -- bronze it maybe, as a memorial to what I had achieved. See, when she said, "It all goes back in the box," it was kind of a way of saying to me, "None of it's really yours. It doesn't belong to you. You don't own any of it. You just used it for a little while, and now it all goes back in the box. And next time it'll all go to somebody else. That's the way the game works. So when you play the game, don't forget this one lesson. When the game comes to an end, and the game always comes to an end, the stuff all goes back in the box." Christmas is a week away, seven shopping days, not counting those stores open 24 hours a day. You're going to be unwrapping a lot of packages, and some of them are going to be very nice. Some of them may even say "Harrods" on the outside. But remember when you open them, someday it'll all go back in the box. You see, all of this rushing and accumulating that our lives become oriented around involve a form of denial.

And the fundamental reality that we all deny is that we're going to die. There is a simple, two-word question that people tend not to ask. The question is, "Then what?" That's the question that most people never ask. When I finally have enough, when my barn is finally full, when I am financially secure, then what? You have to ask yourself, when you finally get the ultimate promotion, when you've made the ultimate purchase, when you've got the ultimate home, when you've stored up financial security, when you have climbed the ladder of success to the highest rung that it can be climbed and the thrill wears off--and it will wear off--you've got to ask yourself, "Then what?" What do you do with a cold marriage or one that has failed altogether or with children that learned early on that they're not as important as a briefcase and a meeting and a barn full of stuff? What do you do with people who should be your close friends who don't even know you, not really? What do you do when you discover that your life has had no vision and no meaning? How important will all that stuff be then? "Don't you know," God asks, "how quickly life passes? Don't you understand that it all goes back in the box?"

Now I don't mean to be melodramatic about this, but I think there's a greater danger in our society of avoiding or denying ultimate reality. So I want to ask you, if tonight was your night, if this was the day that your soul was going to be demanded of you, which it will one day, if God were going to write a single word to summarize your life, what would it be?

Because, friends, you don't want to get to that point and realize that you've wasted your life on stuff that doesn't matter. Maybe the best way to celebrate Christmas this year is to recite this sentence a few times to yourself each day. "Things are not going to settle down. I must put God first and ruthlessly eliminate hurry from my life." Just remember that unless you choose to, things will not slow down. Unless you choose to remember 'more' will never be enough. Above all, remember what this week is all about, about how God sent His Son, to live and die for the forgiveness of your sins. He was resurrected to give you the one gift that will last forever. Eternal life. Why? Because the one thing in all this universe that doesn't need to go back into the box is your soul. Make room for Jesus in your life this Christmas.

Let's close in prayer.

Thank you, Dear Lord, for the gift of your Son. We are rich in so many ways, but we too are foolish in so many ways. So help us, God, not to trivialize our lives by running after what does not count and cannot last. Help us, God, to spend our lives this Christmas and every day, becoming rich towards you. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.

This brilliant talk was first given by John Ortberg of Willow Creek Community Church and has been adapted with highly unoriginal and minor changes applicable for a UK context.