Dec. 9/10 The Advent Conspiracy- Spend Less
Scripture: Matthew 2: 1-12
We’re ready to kick off week 2 of our Advent sermon series entitled The Advent Conspiracy, and if you weren’t able to join us last week, or if you simply need a reminder, last week challenged us to worship fully. If we do anything different this Christmas, we should worship fully…because Christmas isn’t about us; it’s about Jesus. Christmas begins and ends with Jesus. And if we forget to worship fully (or neglect to worship at all), we can be sure that our Christmas celebrations won’t be nearly as meaningful as they are meant to be. Because the closer you are drawn to this Savior, the more you’ll begin to see your life change in ways you did not think were possible.
Change begins to take place the moment Mary is told she’s having a baby. Babies do that, you know. When babies are born, or even when parents receive the news that a baby is on the way, there’s a disturbance in the force. I was in the final year of seminary when Joanna woke me up and said, “I have some news for you…” And those simple words changed our lives forever. In the few seconds that Joanna took to show me the positive pregnancy test, something shifted in our beings. Immediately, our priorities and even the way we defined our lives took on new meaning. There was at once a mix of joy and fear, excitement and trepidation, wonder and mystery. Grocery lists would now include formula and diapers and all sorts of other products that would change our spending habits. Everything, including our budget, was about to change. And so it was with the birth of this baby born in Bethlehem.
I guess you never realize just how much change takes place when new life enters the world, but it’s more than we recognize. Mary and Joseph had their worlds turned upside down by Jesus, but they weren’t the only ones…Magi from other countries heard about this little guy, so much so that they hopped on their camels to look for him. The other person who caught wind of this baby’s birth was King Herod, and he immediately called the local pharmacy to order a second supply of Prozac. You wouldn’t think a baby would pose a threat to this mighty king, but this is no ordinary king.
Herod was a king who had it all and yet in reality, he had nothing. Placed in his position by the Roman Emperor Ceasar, Ceasar once said about Herod, “I would rather be his pig than his son.” He stopped at nothing to get what he wanted because he lived in a constant state of anxiety and fear. The man feared that he would never have enough…or worse, he feared he would some end up losing what he DID have. With this news that a messiah is to be born, Herod can sense of shifting of the tides and fears that life is about to change. And so to combat this anxiety, Herod found ways to keep influential people by his side. He rubbed elbows with the religious leaders of the day; he made sure the community’s movers and shakers were on his side; and he even tried to buddy up with the Magi from the East. Herod learns from the Magi’s visit that Jesus’ birth is to take place somewhere near Bethlehem, and so he invites the Magi to locate the child and then report back to him so that he, too, may go and worship. But that’s just his excuse. Herod has no interest in worship. He has no interest in this child, except to use this child to get what he wants. And what he wants is MORE!
That sounds pretty twisted doesn’t it? Using the birth of baby for selfish gain? Exploiting someone else’s happiness to keep on filling pockets that are already oversized and overstuffed? Yet that’s exactly what Christmas has become for so many. The one night meant to set people free, the pinnacle of hope for a dark world, has become an obsession for more, and more and more. King Herod went on a killing spree, resulting in the deaths of over 3,000 baby boys, simply because he wanted more and didn’t want to lose out. And while that’s not our story, our own desire for more cannot be ignored. According to a study done last year, the average American consumer tacks on a fresh $1,000 of debt during Christmas due to undisciplined spending habits. Those are the types of sprees we go on (and sometimes people DO get trampled in the process. I’ve been in the malls on Black Friday!) because we don’t want to lose out, nor do we want our loved ones to lose out, on the latest edition, toy or device. But what if God had something else in mind with the birth of His Son?
Later in his life, Jesus cautioned his disciples about this unhealthy need for more. He talked about storing up treasures in heaven, the stuff that that is eternal and abundant, instead of storing up treasures on earth, which will only rot, decay and someday end up in somebody else’s hands. And then he ended with something interesting. He says, “Wherever your treasure is, that’s where you’ll find your heart.” I think what Jesus is saying is that our souls are influenced by our pursuits and habits. If we pursue the wrong things, or even the right things with the wrong intentions, something happens to the core of who we are. And if we continue to pursue all the wrong things, we’ll discover an insatiable appetite that is never fully satisfied. We’ll always be on the hunt for the next big thing, or the next model or the next toy…and we’ll end up just as empty inside as when we started. That doesn’t sound like Christmas at all! So what’s the solution? How do we celebrate Christmas in a way that fills our hearts with joy and meaning? Those are the questions that plagued the Cherry family from Austin Texas just a few years ago.
The Cherrys were growing weary with their Christmas spending. It was out of control, and they were feeling almost queasy about their habits. So they made a decision: they would slash their spending budget. And at first, they were nervous. They had all the questions we would have. What will the kids think of this? Will they think we love them less? Will we still be able to provide a memorable Christmas? But the true beauty of Christmas changed them. Listen to their testimony: “When we first talked with the boys about changing or Christmas budget, they were a little disappointed. But looking back, I don’t remember seeing any of that on Christmas Day. David and I are so grateful for the Advent Conspiracy. We knew things didn’t feel right, that there was something askew with our Christmases—but we couldn’t pinpoint exactly what was wrong. I remember thinking something must be missing…Now I know that more for us actually means a whole lot less.”
Maybe you’ve felt that way, too. Maybe there’s something about your Christmas traditions that don’t feel quite right. Something about King Herod’s comment about worship didn’t feel right to the Magi, so they hurried off to find the one born in Bethlehem, and then they returned home by another route. Might I suggest that maybe this year we should take another route so that Christmas may change us once more? Might I suggest that the way to experience MORE this Christmas is to actually spend less?
Spending less is obviously good for our budgets. And less debt and financial stress is good for our overall health. I can’t imagine any of us would be upset about saving money during Christmas. So simply slashing our spending budgets might be a really healthy discipline that could very well change our hearts. But spending less doesn’t mean spending nothing. It’s more than that. Spending less means spending wisely; it means spending in a way to glorifies God and truly lifts up the name of Christ during this hope-filled time of year. So here are three ways that you can spend less by spending wisely:
First, spend thoughtfully. And by that, I mean this: Put some serious thought into truly understanding the people you buy for. Do your gifts truly represent their needs, passions and personalities? Or are they just gifts? And what story do the gifts tell? Do they speak to the depth to which you know your loved one? What a difference it would make if you had a personal meaning behind every gift you gave. Much has been made of the symbolism of the Magi’s gift to Christ, but one thing is for certain: these were not gifts that would be sold as the community yard sale next year. These were gifts fit for a king. So if you want to spend less this year, spend thoughtfully.
Secondly, spend responsibly. And by that I mean to spend in ways that reflect your core values as a disciple of Jesus. This one will require some homework on our part, and maybe even a little bit of research because it asks us to consider the ways we love our global neighbors. For instance: Do you know where your gifts come from? And I’ll let you in on something: Your gifts don’t just appear at a department store or on a website like Amazon. Some of the toys you’ve bought were packaged by children the same age as the little ones you wish to surprise on Christmas Day…and they weren’t allowed a drink of water while they worked. Some of the jewelry we wear is adorned with diamonds that came out of the blood diamond fields of Africa. Even some of the clothes we wear were fashioned in sweatshops as a form of modern day slave labor. If Christmas truly is about God so loving the world, how can our Christmas spending should reflect that love? There are all sorts of fair trade companies and small-town businesses in our world that can help us confidently proclaim, “No human rights were violated by the making and buying of this gift.” That’s a bold way to celebrate the One who came to save us all!
Third, spend sacrificially. And by that, I mean to give more of your self, which costs a lot more than money and shopping trips. We’ll talk more about this next week, but one of the best ways to spend less is to give more of you. And when we think about it, isn’t that what makes Christmas Christmas? It’s people that make all the difference in the world, not a gadget. The greatest gift ever given was a person, Jesus Christ, and his presence with us brings peace, joy, hope and love. That’s what the Magi found that day. Not an object, but a person they would forever influence their lives. Ultimately, the Magi returned home by another route because God had disrupted their lives at the sight of this baby. Maybe it’s time for this Savior to disrupt our lives once more and to help us celebrate Christmas with new meaning. Amen.