February 3, 2011, was Chinese New Year, and this is the year of the Rabbit. My wife was born in a Rabbit year. The year of my birth, 1962, was a Year of the Tiger. If ’62 had been a rabbit year I wouldn’t have mentioned it. Rabbit is a great year for a woman, but not so much of one for a man. It may be the year of the Rabbit in China, but here in Manassas it is the year of the Skunk. At the risk of being the brunt of endless West Virginia jokes (when am I not?), I confess that I have noticed a pattern in our local road-kill. We have more road-kill here in Manassas that I ever encountered in West Virginia, or Ohio, and each year there seems to be a featured item on the menu (so to speak). 1994, the year we moved to Manassas is remembered as the Year of the Raccoon, as dead raccoons were to be met daily on the streets. For three or four years following we had rabbits, then squirrels. There was a year when seagulls came to Manassas to die, and that was followed, until this year, by a decade of dead squirrels.
This year we have skunks. I have counted four dead skunks in the city so far this year – and this during winter months when they are largely dormant. You might not have noticed the pattern of raccoons, rabbits, squirrels, seagulls, and more squirrels, but you will notice the skunks because, as Loudon Wainwright III reminded of us years ago, a dead skink in the middle of the road stinks “to high heaven.” Nothing smells like a skunk but a skunk (thankfully), and no smell permeates like the smell of a skunk.
Of course we notice that acrid, burning tire/rancid cabbage smell of a skunk so readily because there are so few competing smells. “There are no smells in America,” a friend from Malawi used tell me. We were in Seminary together, and she had been raised on the mission field. “America is just clean,” I would say. “No,” she would reply, “it is antiseptic.” In the ancient world – in much of the current world, the atmosphere is filled with aromas. We rely less on our sense of smell than we do touch, hearing, and especially sight, but we also know the power familiar smells have to evoke memories. The smell of elementary school, a new car, a freshly mowed lawn, coffee, bacon, hot sour-dough biscuits, a newborn baby……places, times, experiences all recreated for us. Smell communicates.
Smell communicates – this is a biblical concept. Smell communicates victory. Since there are winners and losers, smell communicates defeat. It is the same smell. The Bible is also clear that Victory doesn’t smell like Napalm. What produces this Biblical smell is sacrificial love:
Walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. Ephesians 5.2
….I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God. Philippians 4.18
For we are a fragranced of Christ to God among those who are being saved, and among those who are perishing. To the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life…II Corinthians 2.15-16.
In the passage from II Corinthians above Paul calls to mind the smell of sacrifices and incense offered up at a victory celebration. To the winner it is the smell of victory, to the looser it is the smell of defeat.
Sacrificial love is the incense –in all the passages cited above - whether it comes from Paul, his co-workers, or from Jesus Himself. When we sacrifice because we love, or receive the sacrifice of Jesus, the effect is as inescapable as a strong fragrance. The gift of sacrificial love permeates, communicates. If we refuse the sacrifice of love, it smells like death.