Sunday 2nd November 9am Worship
Sermon Series: Advent Conspiracy
Title: Spend Less
Bible Reading: Luke 1:23-56
Preacher: Phil Swain
Last week I introduced us to a concept which a number of different churches around the world as also exploring called the “advent conspiracy”. In short it is a trying to help us have a different perspective on Christmas – to not get sucked into the consumerism model where our love for others is represented by the amount of money we spend but rather to give relationally of ourselves. Today – our theme today is spend less. I must confess that this sermon was difficult for me to write. You may know that part of my personality is excessiveness … and that includes excessive generosity in gift giving. So I feel I am going to sit more comfortably with next week’s sermon on giving more than this week on spending less. But over the past 10 years, I have been challenged by God in this area – but more of that later.
Coming back to the “advent Conspiracy” concept. If you are not sure what this is all about … lets watch a video … not the same video we have watched few week but another one which brings out well not only the advent conspiracy concept but also what we are looking at today.
I liked the way the bloke talked about the 2 different Christmas stories. One the one hand we have people rushing around, presents bought, going into debt, lots of food … and on the other hand we have the story of the birth of Jesus, the Christ- child born into a poor family with no bed but an animal food trough. Two stories of Christmas which seem to be so different from each other. Which story have you entered into?
Let me be clear – I am NOT saying that there is anything wrong with things like family gatherings, gift giving, celebrations … these are good things but if we are not careful, they can end up diverting our attention from the other Christmas story.
Last week, the challenge was to find time to worship fully as we prepare for Christmas. The challenge this week seems almost impossible. Spend Less? Christmas is a season for excess. It is difficult to go against the norm to “eat, drink and be merry”. We begin to worry that if we spend less that our love ones might think that we are just being lazy, or even worse, that we don’t love them as much because of the lack of money spent. (That is actually not true – the cost of the present has nothing to do with the love that we have – but we do worry that others might think that about us). And what do we actually mean by spend less? Spend less that last year? Spend less than the others in my family? Spend less than the average Australian who spend nearly $1000 a year on Christmas presents? Let me be clear – I am not telling you to take up the advice of Ronan Keating when he sang about showing love at Christmas – “You say it best, when you spend nothing at all”. I am not suggesting that we spend nothing at Christmas … but today we are wrestling with the questions, how much is too much? The line between simplicity and excessiveness is hard to discern … especially when we have been living in a society all our lives that sits comfortably with excess.
And what about financial implications of spending less. Last week on the channel 7 news there was a great story about how Christmas toy sales have slumped – but not because kids are spending all their time on their phones but rather because parents think that kids have too much stuff and are preferring to give their kids experiences as a gifts rather than more junk. While the story makes me hopeful that the commercialised Christmas story is weakening, it does raise a difficult economic issues – if we spend less then stores and small business do it tougher. So maybe we shouldn’t spend less?
A number of years ago, TEAR (whom we are supporting through the very useful gift catalogue) put out a poster that really confronted me … why do we think that a good way to celebrate the birth of Jesus is to buy lots of stuff?
The more I read the bible the more I see that it has lots to say about the accumulation of stuff. Jesus told a parable against a man who had so much stuff that he needed to build a bigger barn to accommodate it all. Jesus said not to worry about the material possessions but to seek first the kingdom of God. 1 Timothy says that too much stuff can lead us to forget about God. (1 Tim 6:9). One of the lessons for the Israelites when they were collecting Manna in the desert was that there is such a thing as too much. Paul when writing to the church in Corinth writes that when we have been blessed by God to use that blessing for others.
So what does all this mean at Christmas time? Does the first Christmas narrative speak to this topic. Let’s zoom in on two people from the Biblical narrative – King Herod (Found in Matthew 2) and the reading we had this morning of Mary (Found in Luke 1)
This time last year I preached a sermon on Herod. Herod the Great ruled Palestine for nearly 60 years and was known for two things: his cruelty and his excessiveness. He was insecure about his power and would kill or strike fear into others to maintain power. He was a very cruel man and yet he was also a man who lived an excessive life. His palace in Jerusalem was supposed to be absolutely stunning. The parties that he threw were lavish affairs. Whether it was his own homes, his renovation of the Jewish temple, the cities he built – Herod went over the top in his excessiveness. Shakespeare in his play “Hamlet” when wanted to speak of the excessiveness of one of his characters used the line “you have out-Heroded Herod”. Are you getting the point? King Herod was wealthy and powerful, and this was reflected in his excessive lifestyle.
On the other hand, in our reading we met the young girl Mary. She lived in Nazareth … a poor province in the northern part of Israel … a long way from the centralised power of Jerusalem. When it came to having power – Mary had none. Being a woman with no money and at that stage, no husband – in the society she lived in, she was insignificant. And yet, it was Mary that the angel came to visit to give the good news from the Almighty God. It was Mary that found favour with God and that God offered the opportunity to be the vessel through which Jesus came into the world. It was Mary who would hold, and feed, and care for, and to protect the baby Jesus – the Messiah, the son of the most high God. Extraordinary.
I don’t think you could get two people in the Christmas story who are so opposite.
- Herod was surrounded by excess, Mary had nothing.
- Herod had all the power, Mary had none.
- Herod has all the resources and opportunities do make a difference but didn’t where was Mary had nothing but when asked, she offered God everything. When asked, Mary gave herself. “I am the Lord’s servant, May your word to me be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:38)
As we approach Christmas this year … which story are we engaging with … the story of excess, of stuff, of King Herod … or the story of relational giving – of Mary giving of herself.
Over the past 10 years or so, Marion and I have been really challenged by this line of thinking. It has caused us to re-evaluate the way we are approaching Christmas – especially Christmas spending. We are not perfect in any sense, but we want to find a way to have our gift giving reflect more of the story of Jesus than the story of the excessive, commercial Christmas. A few years ago, we tried a “no more stuff” rule. Our house was full of stuff that we went to our kids and offered that we were willing to buy them one significant present but not lots of little stuff that would just add to all the other stuff. I’m not sure if we actually spent less but I think we spent more wisely. Both our extended families have introduced the secret santa idea … so that everyone in the family (little kids excluded) gets the name of another person in the family to buy for – meaning we only get one present and not loads of stuff. One bible study group I was involved with had a “make, bake, re-gift or recycle” secret Santa – in other words were not allowed to buy anything from a shop but rather be more personal! These are just a few ideas to try to live less in the world’s story of Christmas and more in the Jesus story.
Now I’m not saying that everyone else has to do what I do. Just because the minister says something does not mean that everyone else has to blindly follow. But what I am encouraging you to think about what it would mean for you reflect the Jesus Christmas story in your spending habits this year.
To be helpful with this, the Advent Conspiracy book (which you can buy at any ebook seller) had some really good questions for us to consider when buying gifts this Christmas. AC simply asks us to get into the habit of asking a few more questions before spending our money on Christmas gifts.
- Before you start buying, consider each person on your list. Think about your relationship and what significance it brings to your life. How might you be able to give relationally (like Mary) rather than materially (like Herod) … we will look in depth at this in next week’s sermon “give more”.
- Consider your core values and whether what you are buying reflects your values.
- Develop a thoughtful approach to the histories of the products and companies who you purchase from.
- Do the companies support their workers well?
- Do you agree with the way the product is advertised?
- What about the environmental consequences?
- Is it recyclable or reusable?
- Was the product produced locally or shipped half way around the world?
- Set your budget; know your limit. (Actually, AC strongly argues against using any debt to buy presents. Showing love should not push us into debt)
- Consider drawing names, or giving one less gift than last year, or maybe two?
- Talk openly and early with your family. You may be surprised how quickly they begin to understand. AC makes the point that it is often the children who let go of hyperconsumption before the grown-ups. At the same time, be humble – this is not something that we want to imply that we are better than others because we are spending less.
But there is also a flip side to this … one of the advantages of “spending less” is that you sometimes end up saving some money. What do we do with that money? Do we just let it accumulate in our bank account … spend it on other relational activities like taking the kids someone special over the holidays … or do we follow Paul’s advice in 2 Corinthians and use the blessings that we have received in helping bless others?
Many of the churches who are participating in the Advent Conspiracy program are taking up the challenge of passing on the money they save by spending less and giving relationally to a project to try and supply clean drinking water to those who do not have it. AC points out that it would only take 10% of what the world spends on Christmas each year to completely solve the worlds clean water and sanitation problems.
Now here at TUC, we don’t have a specific project to give it to, but I encourage you to “pass on” any money that you don’t spend this Christmas to people who really need it. Join up with your friends and buy something at the TEAR catalogue. Or share relationally with others. Or give it to the Christmas Bowl on Christmas Day … the idea is that we spend less but then share that savings with the people who need more. (More on this next week)
So … I come back to the question … how are you going to respond to all of this? I know I am setting it up to sound like we should not spend any money this Christmas … but that is not the point I am making. I am still planning to spend money this Christmas on gifts. The point I am making is that I think we need to think about how we are spending our money … we need to have a considered faith when it comes to celebrations, gift giving, parties and spending this Christmas – and how our excessiveness impacts on the sharing of world resources and impacts our environment.
It is my prayer that the way we engage with Christmas this year will reflect less of the spend, consume, debt cycle of the world, but rather reflect more of the story of Mary – and ultimately of Jesus, who gave of themselves out of love.
Think about it … that is all I ask you to do … think about it.