This is a phrase that is often found in my vocabulary. When I am playing pickle ball, and the ball hits slightly out of bounce, I find myself saying, “Close, but no cigar (see-gar).” I don’t remember exactly where I picked it up, but I think I picked it up from the days that the travelling carnival came to our town and parked itself in Robin’s Park, which was right across the street from my house. The park was a big open field, covering a peat bog (so I was told), where little league diamonds were housed, junior football practice took place, and where we kids played our neighborhood football and baseball pick-up games.
But once a year, in the summer, the carnival would come to town for a week with its rides, cotton candy, and games. One of the games was the sledge hammer challenge. You would get a big sledge hammer, hit a mat that was connected to a pole, and up the pole would go a metal ball that if you hit the mat with significant force, the ball would ring the bell at the top of the pole. If you rang the bell, you got a prize…..a cigar. If you didn’t ring the bell….well, “close, but no cigar.”
You see, close, when it comes to the sledge hammer challenge, wasn’t good enough….no cigar. And likewise, when it comes to salvation, close is not good enough….no cigar. When it comes to salvation, there is no middle ground. After all, if you are dropping a net into the ocean to pick up someone who is bobbing up and down in the waves, and the rope from the helicopter is not quite long enough to save them, close is not good enough.
But notice, when Jesus came into this world, he came all the way into the world…not just close to it, but all the way into it. He didn’t just pretend to take on human flesh, he incarnated himself in it. He didn’t just come close to the pain and struggles of life, he ran smack into them and took them on. He didn’t just come close to dying, he breathed his last on the cross. And he didn’t come close to rising from the dead and just peek out of the tomb on Easter Sunday morning, he stepped out with a victory march and is still making that march today. When Jesus came to save, Jesus didn’t just come close….he came all the way. Rang the bell!
There may be a lot of really good things that come close to being able to save us….friends, family, productive work, wealth and money, fun and excitement, and the rest….but when it comes to pulling us with forgiveness out of the holes we make in our lives, or pulling us out with new life of the 6 foot hole that we will all find ourselves in one day, all those things can only come close. No bell. No cigar.
So, this week as you stroll through the carnival of your life…with all the challenges, thrills, fears, and confusion….take a look at a particular pole that stands in your path, the pole of the cross, and see how Jesus hit it with all of his might, the might of God Almighty, and hear his final cry from that pole, a cry of victory over every sin that might try and claim you or me. And hear the ring from that cross-pole, “It is finished!” And then see the prize that Jesus has won, not a cigar, but new life! And then hear Jesus say to you as he hands you the prize that he has won….a prize that no one can take away…. “Here, this is for you.” Alleluia!!!!!!