December 9, 2012, Advent 2
Advent Conspiracy–Spend Less
We’re in our second week of Advent; our second week of the Advent Conspiracy series. Last week we read about the magi and talked about what it means to Worship Fully.
This week we are hanging out with the shepherds and thinking about what it would mean to Spend Less.
The magi brought Jesus worship and gifts. The shepherds, it seems, just bring worship. The angels show up when they are out in the field tending their flock. The heavenly host tell about the newborn baby, and the shepherds hurry off to find him.
We don’t know of any gifts they took. They certainly didn’t take the time to do any Christmas shopping, so if they did bring gifts, they were simple, accessible, personal–a roughly carved wooden figure that one of them had been working on during the down time out in the field; a perfectly round pebble that had been bouncing around in another’s pouch; a stale hunk of bread left over from lunch.
Whatever the shepherds’ gifts were–or were not–the shepherds themselves are as honored in the birth stories as the magi who brought expensive presents. The focus in these texts is not on the gifts, but on the people who come to worship, bringing whatever they have.
Of course, the shepherds didn’t know that the magi would be coming with expensive tree resins and gold. They hadn’t seen the ads for discounted messiah gifts. They weren’t whiling away the hours out in the field by flipping through “1000 things nobody should have to live without” catalogs. Jesus, himself, hadn’t had enough time to make up a Christmas wish list.
Of course the shepherds spent less. They spent nothing. Because they didn’t have time. And they probably didn’t have much money. And they didn’t have credit cards.
But we do. We have time to shop. (Sixteen more shopping days.) And we have money–at least some. And I assume most of us have credit cards. Plus we watch the ads and look at the catalogs and are given lists of what people we love want for Christmas.
So what does it mean for us to “Spend Less” this Christmas season? (Short of going out to live in a field during the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas . . . )
I should tell you that I’m a little uncomfortable with the phrase “spend less”–because it presumes that you are already spending too much. It is true that we, we people in the U.S., are collectively spending a heck of a lot of money. The average American will spend $854 on gifts this year. Average parents will spend $271 per child.
That is indeed a lot of money. Though, really, it’s hard to judge whether it is too much money. It all depends on what the money is buying and whether the person spending it has the money to spend.
Lots of you spent money on gifts for foster children, which is a good thing. And buying things that are fair trade and environmentally sustainable usually means you spend more than you would on the same gift at a discount store.
In our family, we do buy gifts for each other–though not $850 worth–and it is fun to buy and wrap something special. And it is fun to open the gifts on Christmas.
I’m sure that many of us could . . . should . . . spend less. But I don’t like to presume that. Rather than talk about spending less, I would prefer to talk about spending faithfully.
Spending an amount we can afford to spend–that leaves money for living and for giving.
Spending on things that are justly produced, things that will bring actual value to the person receiving them, things that do not further harm the environment . . .
When we give gifts to each other at Christmas, they should be gifts that ultimately honor the One we celebrate–Jesus Christ. This story of the angels’ visit to the shepherds and the shepherds’ visit to the baby reveals that the priorities of God’s Kingdom are different from the priorities of worldly kingdoms. (In case that wasn’t already evident with the whole being born in a stable thing in the first place.)
Shepherds were not highly regarded in society. They lived much of their lives outside and, I’m sure, had the lack of personal hygiene that goes with the job. A shepherd’s testimony wasn’t even accepted in first century courts.
And yet God is announcing the birth of the messiah to them first. God is calling them to witness to the incarnation. God is sharing with them the joy and the peace that is breaking into the world through the Christ child.
As Jesus grows and lives out his ministry, we certainly see more clearly the contrast between the priorities of the world and the priorities of God. But it’s all here from the very beginning in this story of shepherds who rush to the manger with the tunics on their backs and words of joy in their hearts.
The world calls us to spend money as we celebrate Christmas. God calls us to honor Jesus as we celebrate Christmas. It’s not that these things are mutually exclusive, but we have to be very careful . . .
Some of those wacky Mennonites up in Canada have started a movement called “Buy Nothing Christmas.” (Actually, lots of good resources and creative ideas for the holidays.) And there are people, there are times, when that may be the call.
A buy nothing Christmas can be a way to spend faithfully.
Spending less can be a way to spend faithfully.
Spending money on activities rather than stuff can be a way to spend faithfully.
Buying fair trade and environmentally sustainable products can be a way to spend faithfully.
Keeping our spending in balance with our giving can be a way to spend faithfully.
Let’s think for a minute about the statistics I shared with the kids during children’s time. Statistics which, by the way, are from the Advent Conspiracy folks and are six years old.
Americans spend $450 billion dollars a year on Christmas. $450 billion.
We could make clean water available to everyone on the planet for $20 billion.
Clean water for children, for laborers, for mothers, for farmers . . . for shepherds abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks. For less than 1/20th of what we spend on stuff at Christmas.
The Christ child was honored by the rich gifts of the magi and the simple gifts of the shepherds. God is not honored by how much we spend–but God can be honored by how we spend.
Maybe spend less. Maybe spend differently.
Definitely conspire against the economic powers that be and spend faithfully.
– – – – –
And because I reference it in my sermon, a brief outline of the children’s time:
Remember what the magi brought Jesus? What do you think the shepherds brought?
Did they spend a lot of money?
Do people in our country spend a lot of money today?
–This morning we are talking about how we spend money at Christmas. What kinds of things do we spend money on this time of year? (Give each child a few pennies as they share answers to the question.)
–Each penny stands for $10 billion. ($450 billion on Christmas stuff–that’s 45 pennies)
–Are these things we buy for Christmas wants or needs?
–What happens when people don’t have enough water? What happens when people drink dirty water?
–So is clean water something we would consider a want or a need?
–$20 billion to provide clean water to everyone. (That’s 2 pennies)
–So it’s important to think about how we spend money–that we think about what other people need in addition to what we want.
–Then I told the congregation how much our treasurer loves to count pennies and had all the kids dump their pennies into the offering basket.