Okay, I am going to start out by playing an Ad. It is intentional on my part and I using it because I cannot help but feel it says something about the holiday season. Also, it is sort of cute and funny, as long as you do not take the mayhem too seriously. So here it is an ad created for Temptation Cat treats.
Have you ever felt Christmas is like that? A moment steeped in excess and extensive preparation and then the curtain is pulled up and mayhem and craziness ensue and then all that is left to do is to clean everything up and do it again next year. Merry Christmas!
Sometimes the world does bury itself in excess. The news tells us that Cyber Monday and online sales are going to be tremendous this year. We are warned to order early and beat the holiday package rush. Christmas sounds like a stock report on the news every year. But… Is the Christmas story told in the dollars we spend, and if we had no money, would there still be a reason to celebrate?
The second idea within the Advent Conspiracy (adventconspiracy.org) is to “Spend Less! The intention is not just to be countercultural or avoid buying gifts, but the intention is to rediscover the meaning of Christmas that has nothing to do with money and consumerism.
Perhaps the Gospel of Mark helps us in this effort. Mark begins with the simple statement “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Many interpreters understand this statement as the intended title to the book.
At the beginning of this gospel story is not the birth narrative –shepherds, wisemen, or Mary and Joseph, but rather the curious figure of John the Baptist. Now John was not about the excesses of life. Wild and untamed John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, wearing a coat made out of Camel’s hair, and eating locust and wild honey, the gifts of food from the wilderness. His life was what we might call down to Earth and simple. The image of John is that of a prophet. His description would have reminded people of Elijah.
What John does for us is to elucidate the reason for Jesus coming. I suggest that as we pause to visit with John along this Advent road to Christmas, we too can discover the real meaning of Jesus presence with us, and why Jesus came is the real meaning of Christmas. It has nothing to do with the money we spend and everything to do with how our relationship with God and one another is to be mended. John came preaching for people to repent of their sin and prepare their lives for the coming of the Christ. John called people to choose compassion, mercy, charity, and fairness in their work and living.
His message of repentance is tied into the words of Isaiah 40:1-3 (NRSV)
1 Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins. 3 A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
In past history God had given the children of Israel everything they needed: A land flowing with milk and honey, and divine protection. God had delivered the children of Israel out of Egypt and brought their nation into existence
And yet they repaid God with disobedience and rebellion –From the Golden calf in the wilderness to worshipping idols of other nations. In their forgetfulness of what God had done for them they fell away from the true God and were ultimately conquered and taken into captivity. Their temple was destroyed, and the people were scattered.
It was at this point that Isaiah lifted up his voice at God’s behest. God said to them: “Comfort, comfort my people. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem. Announce to them that their warfare is ended, their punishment, over. Tell them that I am coming to them – coming that I might lead them back to the Promised Land. Tell them to make a path in the wilderness for my arrival. Tell them to even out the crooked places and make them straight. Tell them that there is good news for Zion – that I care for my people just as a shepherd cares for their flocks, that I will carry them in my arms and gently lead them to their fold.” Comfort, comfort my people….
This call to repentance and readiness to receive God and restoration, that was John the Baptist message. This also reveals to us the meaning of Christ birth and the real meaning of the Christmas season. Jesus birth is God’s call to us to return to him: receive forgiveness of sin, the restoration of our relationship with God, and to live that new life out with one another. This is what the voice crying in the wilderness was crying about. That is Christmas.
So, how much money does it cost to respond to and celebrate God’s invitation to us? How many presents do we need to buy to make God’s gift to us a reality? How much online shopping do we need to do?
Well… the shortest answer is Christmas does not require a gift, because the greatest gift has already been given, but Christmas is an invitation for us to demonstrate and share God’s love with one another. The big question is how do we do that?
There are probably as many answers to that question as there are people. The Advent Conspiracy argues for the idea of pulling back spending for spending’s sake. Does your family member really need that particular gift you bought them, just because you felt you had to buy them something? Sometimes we feel compelled to buy but we have no idea what a person wants or needs and so the gift is horribly random. It will probably be received in the spirit it was given, but what if we could think a bit deeper. Is there a way of putting greater meaning rather than greater dollars into the gifts we give? Maybe money is not the answer, but a heart that wants to offer a new way to connect is, and spending less can be a key to getting there.
The idea is not to stop giving, but to think more deeply about our purpose in giving. The meaning of Christmas is lived out when we can help one another to remember the gift of God’s love and create places in life that help life to find healing and restoration from the many forces that damage us. It doesn’t really take money to do this. Rejoice this holiday season and celebrate for Jesus is born and God is with us. Amen.