As Jay and I were eating breakfast this morning, he began laughing at an email message he received, a Christmas letter from one of his co-workers. Her holiday letter of gratitude focused on forwarded email. Here’s part of what she had to say:
As another year will shortly be a memory, my heartfelt appreciation goes out to all of you who have taken the time and trouble to send me “forwards” over the past twelve months. Thank you for making me feel safe, secure, blessed, and wealthy.
Special thanks to whoever sent me the one about rat poo in the glue on envelopes because I now have to go get a wet towel every time I need to seal an envelope. Also, I scrub the top of every can I open for the same reason. Because of your concern, I no longer drink Coca Cola because it can remove toilet stains.
I no longer drink Pepsi, or Dr Pepper, since the people who make these products are atheists who won’t put “Under God” on their cans. I no longer use Saran Wrap in the microwave because it causes cancer. I no longer check the coin return on pay phones because I could be pricked with a needle infected with some weird disease. I no longer use cancer-causing deodorants even though I smell like a water buffalo on a hot day.
I no longer go to shopping malls because someone might drug me with a perfume sample and rob me. I no longer receive packages from, nor send packages by UPS, or FedEx, since they are actually Al Qaeda in disguise. I no longer answer the phone, because someone will ask me to dial a number for which I will get a phone bill with calls to Jamaica, Uganda, Singapore, and Uzbekistan.
I no longer eat KFC, because their “chickens” are actually horrible mutant freaks with no eyes or feathers. I no longer have any sneakers — but that will change once I receive my free replacement pair from Nike. I no longer have to buy expensive cookies from Neiman Marcus, since I now have their recipe. I no longer worry about my soul, because at last count I have 363,214 angels looking out for me.
Thanks to you, I have learned that God only answers my prayers if I forward an e-mail to seven of my friends and make a wish within five minutes. I no longer have any savings, because I gave it to a sick girl who is about to die in the hospital (for the 1,387,258th time). I no longer have any money at all – but that will change once I receive the $15,000 that Microsoft and AOL are sending me for participating in their special email program.
I am taken in by her wit and reasonably gentle sarcasm. I like it when someone can make fun of something with style. What I noticed during my day of cooking is the letter took me beyond the humor to somewhere more substantive. Once again, I’m taken by the verb, which I think of first as a direction rather than an action word: forward. We had our mail forwarded from Massachusetts – sent forward would be the fuller expression, which means it is catching up with us. Forward can mean prompt, presumptuous, progressive, and pertaining to the future. It can mean eager, advanced, and being ahead of current trends.
And it can mean radical or extreme. We belong to a forward God and, perhaps, a forwarding God, one who is out in front and catching up with us all at the same time. In the language of grace, forward is a word that means we’re surrounded, enveloped, challenged and comforted by the God who was and is and will be all at once.
The visceral reality of a birth in a feeding shed behind a tiny hotel in a land that knew little of wealth or health or hope, for that matter, means what is being forwarded to us is not an empty scheme or a devious trap. No, it’s the real deal: Love radical and extreme enough to awaken shepherds and sages, angels and animals; a Love so amazing, so divine that lays an unflinching and unyielding claim on our lives and calls us to forward that same love in the way we live with and touch those around us.
Jesus was born in the dirt and the straw two thousand years ago; move forward twenty-one centuries and we still follow the star and wait to hear the herald angels sing not so we can be thrown back into long ago, but that we might be forwarded into the lives of others who need to know a radical, extravagantly loving God who is also a little nuts and has a pretty good sense of humor.
I can picture God laughing at the email, if, of course, someone had forwarded it.