Too soon. Too soon.
Maybe you saw him before he became a sensation, before all the publicity, the instant Facebook memes, the world-wide tweets, the TV coverage.
He might have been walking down Victory Boulevard or Amboy Road: dirty face, layers of ripped and worn clothing, slippers or no shoes at all, wearing a series of hats upon hats (woolen cap topped by a Yankees hat, topped by a hunting cap, topped by a stained red Make America Great Again cap). He would be pushing a shopping cart full of empty soda cans, broken toys, bags of rags and wire, an old TV, plastic flowers, an American flag, a car steering wheel, and dozens of other items. If you got close enough, it would have been hard to avoid the smell. And if you were within earshot, you could hear him singing in a wild voice: “you better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout I’m telling you why….”, over and over again.
At first, he was a nuisance to some, and something of a problem for the neighborhoods through which he traveled. Mumbling two words, “too soon, too soon, too soon”, he would go onto people’s lawns and unplug Christmas lights on trees and bushes; he removed plastic reindeer, giant snowmen, blow-up Santas, lighted candy canes, inflatable Christmas Minions-- placing them all off to the side, yelling “too soon, too soon, too soon”, and if anyone approached him in the act of the undecorating, he pointed his finger at them and sang again “you better not shout, you better not cry, you better not pout I’m telling you why…”.
If it hadn’t been for that reporter from the Advance, he never would have become such a celebrity. She was fearless, that one. Most people would have shied away from the madman, but she saw through his craziness, saw something truthful about him, about his message. And when she approached him to actually ask why he was doing all that unplugging and undecorating, she discovered something holy there, a lion with a fiery heart of love. His message was about finding the cave of Christmas and the light that burns there in the center of the earth.
Somehow, her story about him got out there. It went viral: across Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and eventually on the nightly news, other newspapers. He became the new guru, the latest fad--like beard oil and cupping therapy and drones and adult coloring books and laughter yoga and wellness counselors. All kinds of people started to post his every word and action online—millennials, retired grandmas, red and blue voters, even the New York Times. He kept talking about the long journey-- “too soon, too soon”-- and it was clear that he would be the guide. To get to the cave of Christmas, do what he did—first make the highways straight and level the valleys, inside and outside, repent, repent, repent---get rid of the crap, like the stuff he was dragging around in his shopping cart.
At first children were not amused. They wanted all the Christmas stuff, the more the merrier, the earlier the better. But somehow they were charmed too, and he unexpectedly became their pied piper, and they began to champion his cause. They told their parents to take down the huge Snoopy on the roof, to turn off the Star Shower laser projectors. And maybe most astonishing miracle of miracles, on 86th Street in Dyker Heights, they turned it all off too. And the parade of cars stopped coming, and the tourist buses went elsewhere.
He was the thing, the man, the dude, the boss. Huge crowds of people followed him around, respectfully, as he muttered and sang. Traffic jams occurred on the streets where he walked. When he stopped outside of a Dunkin Donuts, people laid bags of donuts and coffee at his feet. He would reach out and take a sip, maybe grab a couple of donut holes, and leave the rest behind. When he slept at night on the steps of a church, cradled in some cardboard boxes, people stood vigil through the night. He seemed oblivious to all the attention.
What was he selling that so many people seemed to want? Authenticity? Simplicity? Holiness? Maybe a way to the truth about who we all are, who we want to be. A way to the light of the world. A way, simply, to a baby in a crib.
It takes months for such a miracle to be born you know. You can’t simply force it with LED lights and twinkling Santas the day after Thanksgiving. Too soon, too soon, too soon.
But maybe we’re too addicted to instant gratification. His fame and fascination lasted about the life cycle of any new trend: about a week or two. In our throw-away, binging society, we grew bored of him and his message real quick. We had no patience for baby-waiting. Been there, done that…what’s next? The crowds moved on, the displays were plugged in again, 86th Street regained its nighttime glory of dancing reindeer, laughing Santas, Coney Island honky tonk, and of course, massive traffic jams. There was little notice of or particular interest in an ordinary looking little baby.
And what of the herald, the crazy pied piper sensation of the moment? Well, he carried his campaign on, solitary now, no adoring crowds, no more selfie attempts from admiring fans. And he was a nuisance of course, and he smelled, and so they declared him incompetent and put him in a cell for his own sake, where he continued to mutter and sing his ridiculous phrases even in the darkness of his dungeon.
His name, by the way, in case you were wondering, his name was John. He’s still there today, and his message is the same.
There is darkness all around us, but John comes to us, dressed in rags, stomach full of digesting locusts, and a raging fire in his heart, and he wakes us up from our happy slumber to try to teach us the way to becoming responsible for who we are meant to be. WAKE UP, it’s time to get your act together, forget about all the lights and the glitter, forget about your iPads and your Lexus, your autolacing Nikes, your fancy dinners, your Disneyworld vacations and your NorthFace jackets—it might take that to help you see the suffering servant who walks on this earth every moment of every day, it might take that to open your hearts to the poor, the lame, the blind, the starving, the wounded and the dying. Prepare the way of grace for the world in which we all live, go to war against the real darkness, use the weapon of Love that is trying once again to be born in our world.
On the other side of the night, you know, in the cave of Christmas where the light burns in the center of the earth, lies the promise we celebrate in this season of Advent, the time of coming to, coming to the promise: that place where the wolf will once again be the guest of the lamb, where the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion browse together, where the cow and the bear shall be neighbors, where the baby shall play by the cobra's den, where little white boys and girls will play with little brown and black and yellow and red boys and girls, where grownup children will share with one another and help one another, where brothers and sisters everywhere will love one another in the way the world was built to be from the beginning evermore and evermore.
Was he a crazy homeless man, or was he a herald? You can’t rush Christmas, you know. “Too soon, too soon.” Advent is meant to be time of wandering in the darkness, seeking the real light. We need to do Advent. We have to dim our lights to find the real light, get rid of all the glitz and the glamor for a little while. And when we do finally discover it in the humble cave, amidst hay and the smell of cows and sheep, it is more brilliant than a million homes on 86th street.