Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, A tale of a fateful trip That started from this tropic port Aboard this tiny ship.
The mate was a mighty sailing man, The skipper brave and sure. Five passengers set sail that day For a three hour tour, a three hour tour.
The weather started getting rough, The tiny ship was tossed, If not for the courage of the fearless crew The Minnow would be lost, the Minnow would be lost.
The ship set ground on the shore of this uncharted desert isle With Gilligan The Skipper too, A millionaire and his wife, A movie star The Professor and Mary Ann, Here on Gilligan’s Isle.
So begins each episode of the 1960s sitcomGilligan’s Island. I used to love watching that show in syndication in the 80s. The theme song tells you all you need to know about the predicament the seven castaways are in.
They left from a tropic port, where all was seemingly well. But then disaster struck, in the form of a storm, leaving those aboard separate from the paradise they’d departed from. Every episode began with the same basic premise. They wanted to get back, to their friends, their families, their versions of the good life. But, despite their best efforts, human hijinks always seemed to screw it up.
In one episode two Russian cosmonauts arrive. And plan to take the castaways back to civilization with them. But the seven drink too much vodka, and fall asleep, forcing the cosmonauts to leave without them.
In another, the castaways find a hidden raft. But they also find a lost gold mine. Not able to leave wealth behind they bring the gold on their escape vessel. But the weight of it all sinks the raft, dashing any hopes of escape.
One time a band called the Mosquitoes – that’s a Beatles spoof – appears. Ginger, Mary Anne and Mrs. Howell form a singing group, The Honeybees, hoping to impress. But the Mosquitoes worry the Honeybees could be competition. So they leave them there.
The castaways never did get back, at least in the original series, despite so very many attempts. Paradise, for the seven, was lost.
Beginning Story arcs for the tales of scripture are similar. In the beginning was the paradise of a garden. A garden where all was well between God, man, woman. Creator and creation coexisted peaceably. Everything was as it should be.
But then weather took a turn for the worse, in the form of a snake, a tree, a choice. Before you know it, the cast of two were also on a fateful trip. They too, found themselves stranded, separate from the paradise they’d left behind.
Episodes of scripture, in their own way, often begin with that same basic premise. People want to get back to what they had before. That want to get back to right relationship with God, right relationship with each other.
For once you experience things as they should be, you’ll always yearn for that idyllic state.
Unfortunately, history shows people aren’t that good at actually doing it. Despite their best-efforts, ancient human hijinks can end up making things even worse.
We humans were once so intent on getting close to God we started building a tower to the heavens, desiring to become gods ourselves. Which was never the plan. These hijinks led God to give the builders many languages, halting the project. Leaving us separate still.
Hoping to point us in the right direction God created ten basic commands. But the people grew impatient waiting for them, and instead gathered their bling, melted it down, and worshiped a golden calf. Worship of wealth has created strain between creator and created ever since.
When God cleared the way for God’s beloved to have their own land, after exile, the people doubted, questioned, feared. Because of this they wandered the wilderness for 40 years, separate from the promise once more.
With each hope of return to paradise foiled, in an endless number of ways, God grew frustrated. Watching episode after episode end, each with the same conclusion, for way more than three seasons, God couldn’t help but feel sad.
Realizing something had to change, God decided to act. It was time for another new beginning.
This beginning too had a fateful trip, from the heavens to the earth. Even better, this beginning featured a central character that would lead the people home. Back to the paradise lost they so desired.
The good news this beginning represents started with a messenger, and a message. The messenger was not the one, but prepared the way for the one.
The messenger would –
Point the compass, Set the GPS, Make Christ’s way clear.
The messenger proclaimed –
A baptism of repentance, Forgiveness of sins, Hope for brighter tomorrows.
Hearing this –
The people came. The people confessed. The people were baptized.
It was the beginning of a movement with us still.
The messenger gave all this good news from the wilderness. A wilderness the people had been in for so much more than 40 years. A wilderness that would be illuminated, in the not-too-distant future, by a star, a manger, a birth.
Oh there would still be drama ahead after this fateful trip. The weather would keep getting rough. Human hijinks were here to stay.
But now there was a plan. The people now knew the path. They need only follow.
Beginning soon It’s been a tough year. We hunger to turn away from our recent status quo.
We yearn for – new beginnings, fresh starts, good news.
We want to get off the crazy rollercoaster ride we’ve been on. We want to get back to our friends, our families, our version of the good life.
To quote a gay rights advocacy project that began a decade ago, we desperately want to believe thatit gets better.
Yet, in the middle of a seemingly endless amount of human hijinks we’ve experienced this year, the possibility of getting away from it might be difficult to imagine.
Covid deaths keep increasing. Political divides keep growing. Will either ever really end?
But consider this – thepandemic of 1918 killed 675,000 in the US. More than Covid likely will. And that’s among a US population of only 100 million then. That’s a third of what it is today. In pandemic terms, it’s been worse.
Consider too that, despite political divisions, we’re nearing another successful transition of power, from one president to the next. Civil war is in our past, not our future. In political terms, it’s been worse. Much worse.
Remember too, the people of 1861 and 1918 had the same promise given to them from scripture.
They too looked for –
new beginnings, good news, a path, a star, a savior.
God was there for people of centuries past. God is here for us today.
Despite how rough the weather may get. Despite how tossed our tiny ship may seem.
For God is for all people, past, present, and future. And that certainly includes you.
As Advent turns to Christmas turns to 2021 –
Let us recognize the darkness of 2020 for what it is. But let us not linger too long. For unlike the seven castaways, in the midst of human hijinks we have hope.
We castaways live in a moment of great anticipation. We need only set our sights toward a fresh start, a new beginning.
A beginning of the good news, of Jesus Christ. A beginning of confession, repentance, mended fences. A beginning that comes around, this time of year, once again.Amen.