Advent Conspiracy - Week One: "Give More"
Once when I was strolling through the Walmart around Christmastime, I saw a sign hanging from the ceiling. "Save money. Live better."
I have to say that I am encouraged to see that Walmart is so concerned for my welfare that it decided to run a campaign where I will be compelled to save money so that I will live better.
First, I have to say that I actually agree with the idea that saving money will result in better living.
Second, and most importantly, the fact of the matter is that Walmart doesn't want me to save money. It wants me to spend it...in the Walmart. But if it can convince me that SPENDING money in the Walmart will actually SAVE me money and that I will live better as a result... man, that's something.
In the end, Americans will still spend nearly $600 billion on Christmas this year. And most of that will be on credit.
One Christmas, a few years ago, my oldest boy got over 50 Christmas presents. FIFTY. That year I went to like a hundred stores to find some stupid Hot Wheels thing that he wanted and no store had in stock... I was almost ready to resort to bribery of sales people in order to secure the damn thing when I happened to find it somewhere and snatched it up before some desperate women behind me got to it. She was distraught when she saw I had grabbed the last one, and complained about it. I didn't outwardly taunt her, but inside I was giving her a big razz-berry. As far as I was concerned it was Consumer Darwinism... only the strong would survive by getting their kid EXACTLY WHAT THEY WANTED!
Here's something we all should know: TOY AND ELECTRONIC MANUFACTURERS INTENTIONALLY CREATE SHORTAGES OF HOT ITEMS TO GENERATE BUZZ AND PROLONG SALES INTO THE NEW YEAR.
And we play along with them.
Those of us who call ourselves Christians are supposed to be different, but we have bought into the insanity just as much as everyone around us. The only difference is that we go to church in between our shopping forays and sing songs of hope, peace, joy and love while patting ourselves on the back for being so spiritually aware of the "Reason for the Season."
But our culture encourages us to act individually during Advent. The messages might be concealed in images of togetherness and family feasts during the Holidays, but the meaning behind the messages is always the same: "Rush! Spend! Hurry! Buy! Busy!"
And even those of us who call ourselves Christians rush into stores passing right by the homeless begging in the street. We speed by the Salvation Army bell ringers without dropping a dime.
And even when we are compelled to take action and share what we have during the Holidays, we find sanitized and easy ways to do it: buying bags of groceries from HEB, donating to a charity online or something else that doesn't require any of our time or our presence.
Our culture also wants us to believe that our religious freedom is under attack this time of year. I was amused at the battle between Walmart and Target a few years ago when Target advised it's employees to say "Happy Holidays" to customers rather than "Merry Christmas."
Walmart, who knew it's clientele would dig it, made a huge deal out of having their greeters and employees stick with saying "Merry Christmas," in an attempt to show how "traditional" and sort of Christian their company is.
This is a classic diversion technique. While Christians are busy getting their dander up about the lack of Christmas decor on Starbucks cups, they are neglecting one of the most important aspects of the Christian faith--the doctrine of the Incarnation.
Our narrow interpretation of the Incarnation (the fact that God literally took on human form and became one of us) and what that means for followers of Christ has relegated Christians to irrelevance. We don't seem to understand that because of the Incarnation, we are called as followers of Jesus to embody him to the world.
When people encounter Christians, they shouldn't have to wonder where Jesus might have gone, they will see him and know what he's all about through the way we live our lives.
This week we are beginning a new sermon series for Advent: the Advent Conspiracy.
The whole purpose of the Advent Conspiracy is to re-frame this time of year from a Christian perspective and to get people to stop buying in to the consumerism that dominates the season. When we do, we find that we are able to live more relationally and use our money to do something worthwhile--to help build the kingdom of God.
Give More, Spend Less, Worship Fully and Love All.
Let's start today with learning what it means to Give More.
I am going to be reading from Mark 1:1-8
1 The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, 2 as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way”—
3 “a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”
4 And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. 6 John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I baptize you with[e] water, but he will baptize you with[f] the Holy Spirit.”First, we need to spend a moment talking about John the Baptist who is named as the Messenger here in Mark, which happens to be the oldest of the Gospels. Why do we begin here for the first Sunday of Advent?
Well, for starters, this part of the story picks up where the book of Malachi left off. If you remember, Malachi states that God will send a messenger, and now 400 years later, the messenger arrives with the news that God is about to enter into the world. The Messiah is about to arrive.
In the Scripture there is this idea of the "fulness of time"--as in when the fullness of time had come God sent his Son. This is another way of describing the Greek word kairos, or God's time. When God had deemed that it was the right moment in history, God entered into that history and changed it forever.
John the Baptist, dresses like Elijah, acts like Elijah and even baptizes people in the very site where Elijah crossed the Jordan with his successor Elisha and was subsequently taken up to heaven in a chariot of some kind--according to the Old Testament text.
John arrives to speak in to a moment--a moment when the world needed hope, when the time was perfect for a new revolution to begin and spread like wildfire throughout the world in less than a generation.
And what was his message? Out of God's great love and generosity, God is sending you a gift that will transform you and all of Creation. So get ready.
So everything changes at this point. Up until that moment God had been speaking in many ways: through Scripture, through the prophets, through signs and wonders... but now God will speak through the flesh and blood embodiment of God, Jesus Christ himself.
Poet Cheryl Lawrie, beautifully frames this moment of vulnerable gifting. She says: This one chance we get to see flesh and bone put onto the theory--this is you: fragile, impossibly vulnerable and at the mercy of human response.
And what does it look like when God gives more? It looks like Jesus.
It looks like Jesus--breaking bread and then distributing enough for everyone...
Jesus reaching out to those on the margins, the lepers, the accused, the forgotten, the left out, and then bringing them into the family and to the table...
Jesus healing those who were suffering because he wanted to show them what it looks like when the Shalom of God reigns on earth like it does in heaven...
Jesus seeing those who were unseen and lifting them up... Jesus rescuing all of us from the ways we run from the flock into the wilderness...
It looks like Jesus laying down his life, taking on the worst that the world had to offer in order to give us freedom from the fear of sin and death---that they do not get the last word over us.
That's what Giving More looks like God.
But we're too busy for all of that. We have things to do. And besides, most of us have our faces buried in our cell phones while we're doing all of our busy things this season.
Artist Antoine Geiger created an art exhibit called "Sur Fake" that dramatically illustrates this:
I'm not trying to bust on technology here, just trying to make a larger point. Most of us have become so busy during this season of expectation that we've lot our ability to expect anything much at all, and we also lose the ability to notice all of the opportunities around us to Give More...
If we would only lift our heads we would see that there are opportunities for us to give of our time...to friends and family, to those who need friends and family.
We spend so much time preparing for the event of Christmas that we miss out on the things that make this season memorable in the first place: worshipping, eating, laughing, resting, and creating moments that can't be purchased.
This Advent, consider making a covenant with God to lift up your head.
Pray a prayer like this every single day... "I will give more this Advent... more of my time, more of presence, more of resources to make a difference. I will give more of my attention to the world around me, and I pray that you will open my eyes to see where there is pain that needs comfort... despair that needs hope...
And prepare for some amazing things to start happening as you raise your expectations during this season of expectation.
Welcome to the Advent Conspiracy!