December 21, 2019 Twenty-first day of Advent
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Matthew 6: 25
In 1939, the British government created a department called the Ministry of Information. Its primary function was to create morale boosting propaganda to encourage the British people faced with the outbreak of WWII. The MOI created a poster that has become a popular modern meme. The poster simply said:
“Keep Calm and Carry On.”
Now, I want you to think about that for a moment. Your country is at war with an enemy 21 miles away across the Straits of Dover. Their goal is to conquer your country. Keep calm and carry on? Good advice, perhaps, but doable? Stiff upper lip and all that? Here is a bit of trivia that might surprise you. That poster was never used. Maybe because the MOI realized that “keep calm and carry on” was contrary to human nature and really not very inspiring.
This reminded me of Bobby McFerrin’s song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” You know how it goes.
Here’s a little song I wrote
You might want to sing it note for note
Don’t worry, be happy
In every life we have some trouble
When you worry you make it double
Don’t worry, be happy
Good advice, maybe, but doable? Like the British Ministry of Information poster, I think this song is contrary to human nature and just not very helpful. Because frankly, it’s normal and healthy to worry a bit, right? I mean worry is a word with many connotations. It includes everything from concern over a planned dinner party to an anxiety disorder that requires medication. It can cause a bit of a bad mood or it can cause major depression. And there are difficult times in our lives that we simply cannot overcome by keeping calm and being happy. So, saying things like “keep calm and carry on” or “don’t worry, be happy” might be instructive when we are concerned with the Thanksgiving menu, but are not really all that meaningful to someone facing an enemy at its shores or a personal crisis or an anxiety disorder or major depression. To tell someone who is experiencing a serious illness or job loss or some other life changing time to keep calm or be happy can be downright insulting.
But when we read today’s scripture texts, doesn’t it sound like we are being told that when faced with any of these things we are to start singing McFerrin’s song or put on our t-shirt that says, “Keep Calm and Play the Trombone”?
That would be incorrect.
To understand what Jesus is saying we need to first understand its context. Jesus is preaching his Sermon on the Mount. Just before our text, Jesus is talking about where we should store our “treasures”. His preference? In heaven, where it cannot be taken away. What is the treasure Jesus says we should not be worried about? The stuff we think we need that … well … we already have! When we read these words we are called to change the orientation of how we approach worrisome things in our lives.
It’s not “Don’t worry, be happy”.
It should be, “Don’t worry, be grateful”.