Baruch 5:1-9 Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem, and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God. Put on the robe of the righteousness that comes from God; put on your head the diadem of the glory of the Everlasting; for God will show your splendor everywhere under heaven. For God will give you evermore the name, "Righteous Peace, Godly Glory." Arise, O Jerusalem, stand upon the height; look toward the east, and see your children gathered from west and east at the word of the Holy One, rejoicing that God has remembered them. For they went out from you on foot, led away by their enemies; but God will bring them back to you, carried in glory, as on a royal throne. For God has ordered that every high mountain and the everlasting hills be made low and the valleys filled up, to make level ground, so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God. The woods and every fragrant tree have shaded Israel at God's command.For God will lead Israel with joy, in the light of God’s glory, with the mercy and righteousness that come from God.
Luke 1:68-79 "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for God has looked favorably on God’s people and redeemed them. God has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of God’s servant David, as God spoke through the mouth of the holy prophets from of old, that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.Thus God has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered God’s holy covenant, the oath that God swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve God without fear, in holiness and righteousness before God all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare God’s ways, to give knowledge of salvation to God’s people by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace." ******************************************************************************
Last week we talked about Zechariah- or Zach as we called him and his wife Elizabeth. Today, we are up to the part of the story where the baby is finally born, and after months of not speaking- Zach is finally given his voice back and appropriately as can be- he blurts out blessings.
Now, one would think that after not speaking for all of those months, Zach would say how grateful he is for his baby boy-(thank you God for my beautiful child) but Zach praises God for the baby who will come after this one- the baby who will be born to save all of humanity- Jesus Christ. He recognizes that his son- John, though beautiful and adorable and all of those things we see when we look at our own children, will be a prophet- an announcer- will be one who has a calling on his life to prepare people for the coming of The Way. Because Zach had the bigger picture in mind- when he was interrupted by God’s messenger; he came face to face with the message of Christmas. His disbelief had left him speechless, and now his voice was returned to him for the purpose of singing out that message to all who would hear. And he finishes his prayer with these words: "By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace."
But I’ve been thinking, that in the middle of our 'waiting for Christmas morning'- as we wait for the ‘dawn from on high to break upon us;’ and as we strive to keep Christ as the focus of Christmas, so we can walk in the way of peace- that, when Jesus came into the world, much as people would have liked to have been prepared… no one knew about it beforehand, really. .Aside from a few key players like Zach and Liz, and of course Mary and Joseph… the bulk of the world who was looking for salvation wasn’t waiting for a baby to be born- they were going about their daily lives and hoping for the best. Then, the unexpected happened… God arrived-unannounced. And lives were disrupted and the world was interrupted.
That led me to thinking about when I get interrupted. What happens to us when the unexpected happens in our lives? Someone shows up at the door who we didn’t know was coming- even though we may be happy to see them, we head into a rush- we throw something together for dinner, or sometimes get embarrassed that we didn’t take the time to clean the house that day, maybe we just cooked fish or sauerkraut, and we end up apologizing for the smell, or the mess, or that we look awful in our sweats…or maybe we get annoyed because we had planned on a quiet evening at home. And it doesn’t have to happen just at home- think of the ways- both good and bad- that your life is suddenly interrupted.
So it follows then (because we hate being interrupted) that we have created this season called Advent- this season of waiting- of preparation, to reflect on our faith and on our walk- a season handed down to us from a few hundred years ago-Yet ‘What was once a time to prepare ourselves to celebrate the birth of a savior has somehow turned into a season of stress, traffic jams, and shopping lists. And when it's all over, many of us are left with presents to return, looming debt that will take months to pay off, and this empty feeling [i]’that somehow, we have missed something. We sometimes feel full and heavy and exhausted. And because we’ve experienced that feeling so many times we vow that this year will be different-this year we will cover all the bases, so on Christmas morning, we won’t be taken off guard. Our lives won’t be interrupted. (Wal-Mart)
OK- so as long as it’s out there…and after three commercials you are certainly thinking about being the as savvy as the 'gifter', and as celebrated as the 'red card hero', and we just heard that Christmas cost’s less at Wal Mart- let’s talk about the cost of Christmas. America spends over 450 Billion dollars on Christmas every year. 450 Billion Dollars! And in a time when the economy is so tight, and people have lost their homes, jobs, financial security, guess what…spending on Christmas hasn’t dropped! (1%) Projected to rise again this year.
But it’s not just money that we spend… we spend energy, we spend resources, we spend time- all to give ourselves and our family and friends the ‘best Christmas ever.’ - But think about the enormous amount of our yearly resources that goes into one day… do you want a number? Its 20%. I can’t imagine that this is good stewardship-or even that our excessive spending has much to do with the celebration of the one who is born, as Zach says- "to guide us in the ways of Peace… the one who will bring hope to the poor, and freedom to the oppressed." It’s almost the opposite message, isn’t it? Is this what we really want from Christmas?
So welcome to step two of the advent challenge- spend less. And that doesn’t mean shop at wal mart- it means to actually, intentionally spend less- Now- on the surface, spending less means just what is says… spend less money. Does it mean don’t buy presents? No- although it begins by buying 1 less present this year. Just one less. Is that doable for everyone? That doesn’t sound like a lot, but multiplied by 50 or 100 or so folks, that adds up.
And the presents we buy? Let’s talk about those… let's think about what we are buying… and where we are buying it. In other words- what is our money supporting? Do you know about the business practices of some big box discount stores and how they are able to keep prices so low?
Does the toy that you are picking up last minute at a store known for discounts to make your child’s life better, help to keep someone else’s child working in a sweat shop? Or keep someone in poverty because of unfair wages? Are the places that you shop buying their products at fair prices, are they fairly traded- or are they getting their product from people who pay their employees 9 cents an hour?
“You are kidding, right? You don’t expect us to have to look up the businesses and be ethical judges on their buying habits do you? I barely have time to stop at the mall, much less do research about their business practices!”
But you know- we have time to research all kinds of things- we know all about what’s the best widescreen TV to buy, or the best computer- even our kids know the best video games to get, and which have the best performance. We know what companies make them, where they are located, and who owns them… we take the time to watch endless hours of tv, or sports or any number of forms of entertainment… we research all the time the things that are important to us… so if time is your argument… sorry… you’ll have to sell that one someplace else.
What I’m really challenging us to be this year is responsible stewards of our resources. To be unselfish… to help others with our purchases instead of hurting- to share what we have with those who don’t… I quote “I am not trying to make life easier for others by making life harder for you. But it is only fair for you to share with them when you have so much, and they have so little. Later, when they have more than enough, and you are in need, they can share with you. Then everyone will have a fair share.” What crazy person said that? The Apostle Paul- that is straight from 2 Corinthians.
These are our core values folks. Equity, fairness… working toward peace…How do we not live them out just because, and especially because it’s Christmas? And, if you follow the other big idea that we profess as Christians- that nothing we have is ours anyway- that all of it belongs to God- then when we go to plop down 300 dollars on something, we need to step back and realize that this is 300 dollars of God’s money- are we using it to glorify the name of the Holy One?
Next: When you go to buy a gift for someone, consider your relationship with that person. Does what you are buying, really reflect that relationship? My friend Beth and I share a lot of the same values, especially when it comes to social justice- but we have different tastes when it comes to passion on living it out… so for Christmas last year, I went to 10,000 villages and got her a cookbook called Extending the Table, which was created by a community development and peace organization who promotes understanding and celebration of world cultures. She got me a gift also- she paid for groceries for a family of four for a week through world vision. Both gifts spoke to who we are- both of them said “I appreciate this about you”yet both helped someone else through their purchase.
One quick aside- you should spending less except when you should spend more. Ex: Journal- Calcutta- keeping girls out of prostitution.
Next: And maybe this one should have been number 1- Set your budget. It’s not too late to have a debt free Christmas-and more importantly, it will bring exemplify responsible stewardship instead of excess to each family member. For one family I know, their gift to each other is “you don’t have to put anything on your credit card in order to buy me a gift this year.” That’s a beautiful thing!
How about trying to make gifts for people- and I know the argument usually is, I don't have time. And that's probably true; but how about trying to make at least one gift.
Now, the trick to a home-made gift, is once again, considering the person you are making it for. John Pepe has tons of CDs- but he has no clue how to put them on his IPOD- so one of my kids- maybe-will put the songs on there for him and that would be better than anything that they could buy him. Gifts don't always have to cost money.
And, there is something about making a gift that you know will be appreciated- there is joy even in the preparation! Like when you were a child who is making a Christmas gift in school for mom and dad, remember? And your hope was always that they would just love it… and you were proud of what you had done? And hopefully they were received in a way that gave you twice as much joy.
In fact, the gifts that God has made possible for us to receive this year, are handmade and homemade by God! The robe of righteousness, the crown of God’s glory, peace, forgiveness, mercy, all given to us through the birth of Christ- If we can unwrap that gift--- live out His message this Christmas, then the one who gave us the gift receives twice as much joy!
And I have every confidence that we can do it! We can take back Christmas this year- we can take it back from the big corporations who interrupt our worship of the Christ child with message that more is better- that Christmas isn't complete without whatever it is they are selling- we can take it back from the marketers and the advertisers who try to guilt us into wasting our resources-from the ones who try to sell Christmas to US!
To US? Selling Christmas to Christians- convinced that we will fall for the gimmicks and gadgets and gizmos that they put out there to distract and dazzle us…not this year!
This is the birthday of the Liberating King! If we're going to be distracted this season, let it be by that! Let's be distracted by the light of the star that is so bright we cant take our eyes off it- or dazzled by the crown of the glory of the Everlasting that God is holding out for us to accept... Interruption? You bet! Let my whole life be interrupted by the splendor under heaven as the love of God comes again…
This is the Christmas I challenge us to seek this year. Take the next step with me as we wait by the tender mercy of our God, for the dawn from on high to break upon us... to guide our feet into the way of peace."