We are quickly heading toward the season of Advent. I love this season, but if we are, to be honest, Advent, or the Christmas season, has been hijacked. Advent is about joy, hope, peace, and love, all of which took on flesh at the coming of Jesus. However, during this time of year, we see more depression and loneliness than we do joy. We all know that anxiety and stress are the dominant emotions this time of year rather than peace. This is the time of year where our love, one for another, is supposed to shine through, but in a consumeristic landscape, we prefer the self at the expense of the other. If you don’t believe me, pull up YouTube, and type in “Black Friday Shopping Madness”. Point made. Then there is “Hope”. As a culture, we have lost hope in things that really matter. We have reduced hope to materialistic items, career moves, and sports accomplishments. In short, we have traded the greatest story in the world for what’s on sale and fades away. So, this advent, I’m suggesting we reframe the Christmas story or take it back. A couple pastors out of the Portland and Houston area came up with a program, called, the Advent Conspiracy. They suggest we commit to four practices in order to reframe Advent. Here they are:
(1) Worship More (Romans 12:1) - When I say this, I’m not saying we should go to church more, not at all. I am saying, we need to get creative and be more intentional in the way we live. Everything we do is or can be an act of worship. What we prove every Christmas is that we worship the god of excess and money. We need to reclaim worship and we need to stop reducing it to something we do for an hour on Sunday morning. According to scripture, we can use anything as an act of worship to God, anytime we go outside and pay attention to the stars or trees, or enjoy the presence of our friends and family as we acknowledge and recognize the image of God in them, that is an act of worship. Anytime our service toward others is motivated by God’s free gift to us, it is worship. Any time we gather around a table with good drink and food and laugh hard together in gratitude of all God has given us, we are worshiping. So this advent season, if you were to remove Sunday, and just looked at the other six days of the week, ask yourself, who or what am I worshiping?
(2) Spend Less (Romans 13:8) - According to a survey done by ABC just this month, 69% of Americans said, if the rest of their family would agree to it, they would forego the whole gift exchange part of Christmas and just spend time with each other. The average household in the US is $137,000 in debt. Add to that, the fact that the US only makes up 5% of the global population yet we consume more than 25% its resources. Folks, that is really bad math. To continue to live at that rate is to demand others live in poverty so we can live in excess. Ironically, as we spend more it also seems to equate to a rise in anxiety, dissatisfaction, depression, and loneliness, much of this manifests itself in nervous breakdowns, heart disease, and more. Literally, our commitment to excess is killing us. That’s just what it’s doing to our population. This doesn’t take into account the way we are killing our planet and enslaving other populations to ensure we get to continue to live in excess. Despite the fact that every Christmas commercial you will watch this holiday season promises you success, happiness, satisfaction, joy, and status the data shows that our spending delivers the opposite. There is no proof that our spending has any benefit to us whatsoever, yet mounds of evidence indicate that the rate at which we spend only hurts us and our planet.
(3) Give More (1 John 3:16-17) - The greatest thing Christ gave when he came was his self. His time and presence. In fact, in the book of Philippians, Paul will use the word, “kenosis” to describe this. kenosis has two sides to it. First, it means “to empty of”. When Paul refers to this part of kenosis, he is referring to the idea that Jesus emptied himself of all that separated himself from humanity. That alone will preach. Think of all the justifications we use to separate ourselves from certain populations, now imagine if the way you gave more this season, was to simply empty yourself of those justifications. We could stop right here. But to do so would be doing injustice to the idea behind kenosis. Kenosis also means to “empty into”. So not only did Jesus empty himself of the elements that separated him from humanity, he also emptied himself into humanity. He gave everything he had, he left nothing behind and gave his very life for us. Today the great equation is, since I spend so much time being busy with work or extracurricular activities, I substitute it by giving money or stuff in place of my presence and time. But to model Christ, begins when we give more of ourselves to each other. The greatest gift we can give can’t be reduced to money. When we believe this we can give the most important part of ourselves to those closest to us and relocate our money to those in need.
(4) Love All: (1 John 4:20) - What we have to understand is that real love is more active than it is sentimental. Saying we love someone doesn’t make it true. Saying we love someone only confirms what we act out on a daily basis or highlights our hypocrisy. To add to this, Jesus says, that people will know we are his by our love for each other. He never says that our church attendance, giving record, nor our salvation prayer (whatever that even means) would be proof that we belong to him. He says it is the way we actively love others. And if we are to model the life of Jesus, then the better way to say this is that it is the way we love those who seem like they deserve it the least (after all, isn’t that what he did).
If I’m accused of anything, I’m accused of being too theoretical without enough practicality to it. So next week, I want to give you a few suggestions. Click HERE for some practical suggestions.