Growing up, the Charlie Brown “Peanuts” specials were a household staple. In the Halloween special, “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”, Charlie Brown goes trick-or-treating with all his friends. While all his friends receive candy and treats, Charlie Brown leaves every house saying, “I got a rock”.
The Church, in her wisdom, gives us rocks, too. Not for Halloween, but for Christmas! And not just one rock, but three! In the gift of the three rocks, I believe the Church, and our Lord, are trying to communicate a deep truth to us. It is a truth that can help live a life that is deeper in intimacy with the Lord, with greater freedom and greater joy.
The first rock appeared on Christmas Eve, in the sweet Gospel readings that echo to us from a different Charlie Brown special, as Linus recites, “For born to you is this day, in the City of David, a savior, Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you. You shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, laying in a manger.” A manger… A manger, if you don’t know, is used in a stable or barn to hold feed for animals. As a kid, I used to help my grandpa shovel feed into the manger for cattle on his farm. In Jesus time, a manger was a rectangular piece of rock or stone, with the top hollowed out to hold feed for cattle and other livestock. Of course, that hollowed out piece of stone worked well as a makeshift crib.
The gift of the second rock appeared on December 26, the feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr, who was stoned to death. Really? From angels and nativity sets and “Joy to the World” to being stoned to death? That’s a pretty big transition in 24 hours. Talk about squashing your Christmas cheer! The final rock appeared on December 27th. It’s the gospel account of Peter and John racing to the tomb, bearing witness to the empty tomb and the risen Jesus.
Three rocks in three days, and a great lesson. God’s desire is to birth new life in us, more Jesus, into our hearts of stone. When God births something new in our lives, what comes next is death. New life in Christ, whether it is healing, desire, hope or anything else, requires death. It might be death to self, death to expectations, or death to sin, but it is certain death. And, after that death, after the pain, after the suffering of letting go of flesh and sin and worldliness, there is resurrection. There is life, abundant life. Peter and John understood what an empty tomb meant. We should too. We suffer not for sufferings own sake, for suffering is always an evil. We suffer, though, willingly and joyously for the resurrection- that is the joy that is set before us.