John 1:6-8, 16-28
This is week three of our discussion on the Advent Conspiracy. Last week we talked about spending less, and this week the idea is to give more. This sounds like a riddle or a contradiction to our modern ears. How does a person give more by spending less?
Usually, we think life works like that memorable Car commercial from 2012 Superbowl! A mom and dad give their kid a graduation present of new mini refrigerator, but all the boy sees when he comes outside is a brand-new yellow convertible parked on the street and he goes into crazy hysterics thinking the car is his gift. He keeps yelling that it is the best day of his life. He calls his friends. He asks his girlfriend to marry him. Finally, the neighbor gets into his car and drives away, and the boy is left standing in the street asking why Mr. Johnson stole his car. He never saw the little refrigerator his parents were standing beside. Bigger is better, right.
However, the call to give more has to do with understanding that bigger is not necessarily better. Great presents do not always have great price tags. Instead, we are called to shift our giving from the simple act of consumerism toward the act of giving relationally.
Life and faith are not about how much, but it is about knowing another and being known. Our text today insist on developing and having a particular relationship with God. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” There was a great gift, but the gift can not be summed up with an amount, but rather the gift is a person to know and be known by. It is a gift of love and life. This is the point of Christmas.
Even to the early readers of John’s gospel, as they came to dwell on the question of who John the Baptist was, what they were told is who John is not. The question about the Baptist’s identity is to give way to the nature of God’s presence within our world and God’s invitation to us. Who John was is not the point. Who John wants us to know that is point.
John the Baptist bypasses being identified according to the popular notions of the day. Some questioned if he thought himself to be the messiah. It was thought that God would send to Israel a great king who would reconstitute the throne of David, restore the nation’s sovereignty, and lead people back to God in worship and righteousness. Many came claiming to be the messiah in Jesus time. Such a claim would neither be the first nor the last. The lives of these false messiahs usually ended poorly. John denied that he was a messiah.
They asked John if he was Elijah. In the Old Testament Elijah had been taken up off the earth by God, and it was believed that before the messiah would come Elijah would return. In one place in the gospel even Jesus identified John the Baptist as being like Elijah, John himself denied that he was the return of Elijah. Then they asked John if he was the prophet. In Deuteronomy 18:15 Moses tells the people, 15 The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet.” There is a promise of God sending someone like Moses to the people. Usually, this text form Deuteronomy is applied to the promise of a messiah, but many thought the prophet and the messiah were separate individuals. Once again John denies that he is such a prophet.
Instead, John only claims that he has come to prepare people for a new relationship with God. He has come to make the people spiritually ready to receive the one God was sending. He is nothing more than a voice crying in the wilderness. Prepare the way of the Lord.
Sometimes tele-evangelist work to create a brand and make a name for themselves. Often, we can name a particular preacher of the past or the present, but can we recall what they preached about? John’s intent was not to be known, not to become a celebrity, but rather to make another known. This is the simple bottom line of our text. Do you know the one whom God has sent into our world to give you and all you meet eternal life? Are you living for the one who binds us all in the one Spirit, and draws us into a common relationship? If we let this question sink into us this holiday season, we move from how much we gather and give, to whom and for whom we give and do. So, what can we do to make Christmas relational? What should we do to enrich the moments of gift giving by personally caring?
Often at Christmas we focus on how we can help others. We consider how we can help those who have less. We support charitable giving to families who may not be able to provide a gift for their children. Maybe we package up boxes of basic items for people around the world because we know that there are some who do without. We drop a few coins in the salvation army kettle.
All of this is to point out the obvious, Christmas is truly about people and relationships. If you were able to choose to spend Christmas day in a large room with either all the things you ever loved, or all the people you ever loved; which would you choose? I do not have to think about that question too long, I would choose the people. After all what fun is a gift if you have no one to share it with? I buy things because I want to make someone else happy and I open a gift because well… it does make me happy, but I want others to be a part of that as well. I want to share with others in the moment. The real heart of Christmas is in the caring and sharing that we do, and it is that type of giving that was perfected in Christ who gave his life to us that we might have eternal life.
One of the greatest gifts we give may be ourselves to one another, and often that type of giving cost very little. A couple years ago my daughter bought me a very nice journal for writing down my inspirational thoughts. I set it to the side, because I probably am not one for doing a lot of daily journaling, but I have been working on using the book to write down my memories about my life, and the things I have learned over the years. There is much that I sometimes wonder about my own mom and dad, but I no longer have them around to talk to. By writing down my memories, experiences, and thoughts of the past, I can give the gift of history to my daughter; a bit of who I am that she will always find in herself. It won’t cost me anything but time, but I think it is a good gift. You could do the same. Someday I will finish what I started, but I am not done yet.
I once read a story about a family who did not have much to give one Christmas, and so the children woke up to unwrap a single package and inside was a clue to another package which they found and unwrapped to find another clue; until the last clue led them to a single gift. Later the children said they know that they did not get a lot, but it was one of their best Christmases. Why? Because the day was about enjoying the company of one another and being a family, and that was a blessing and a gift.
Now, how can you make the most of this Christmas season, so to live out the Spirit of Christ? It does not take money, but maybe just love, compassion, and individual concern. The true gifts of Christmas do not necessarily cost much, and they are not necessarily in the things you can buy. If you do it right it may be possible to spend less, get more, and even give more. As we practice these moments of truly living, are we not giving a gift to ourselves as well –enriching our own lives and learning to value the gifts of life in greater ways?
This is a good deal for us, and perhaps with a little bit of extra money saved we may wish to reach out to someone in greater need within our world. Amidst the extravagance of most Christmas celebrations there are some on our Earth who lack even the necessities of life. Perhaps we can even give a gift to charity in someone’s name. How would it be to utilize something of our plenty to help someone beyond the boundaries where we usually live. To truly celebrate Christmas, live within the relationships of life as Christ has made them real for us. then we may find that we can spend less and indeed give more. Amen.