Summary: If we want this Christmas season to be different, we must learn the secret of contentment.
Advent Conspiracy: Spend Less
1 Timothy 6:6-10, 17-19
Rev. Brian Bill
Note: The idea for this series and some content comes from a book by Rick McKinley, Chris Seay, and Greg Holder called, “Advent Conspiracy: Can Christmas Still Change the World?”
When I was growing up, I always waited until Christmas Eve to begin shopping for my four sisters. As I raced down the aisles, I grabbed whatever grabbed my attention, providing it didn’t cost too much, and threw it in my cart. When I got home, I dumped the four measly gifts out on the floor and decided who should get what. I then grabbed some newspaper and duct tape and wrapped them up.
My sisters always dreaded opening my presents because they’d get newspaper ink on their hands, the clothes never fit and the knick-knacks were just plain junk. I was offended when all four of them would head back to Shopko the day after Christmas to return their gifts and get something they really wanted.
One of my sisters reminded me this week that I used this same shopping strategy when I bought Beth a sweater at Shopko when we were engaged. That probably explains the look on her face when she opened the box – at least I used a box! This is what my sister Cathy wrote after she read this introduction: “And then, how your shopping skills continued with your fiancée...ugly Shopko sweaters for Beth...you’re lucky she didn’t run when she got that first gift.”
As we continue in our Advent Conspiracy series, we’re focusing today on how we can spend less. One way to do that is to buy cheap gifts and forgo the wrapping paper, but we’re going to discover that striving to spend less is not just a way to get out of spending our shekels. Instead, as we learned last week, when we worship fully, we will seek out ways to spend less so that we will be in a position to give more. Here’s a summary of last Sunday’s sermon: When we understand Christmas more deeply, we will worship Christ more fully. We learned that when we enter into the story of Christmas, we’ll respond like the original cast of characters, with adoration and action. They Offered, Jumped, Magnified, Obeyed, Adored, Hurried, Praised, Marveled, Witnessed and Worshipped.
In one sense, our topic today is a no-brainer because many of us will be spending less anyway because of the economy at large and the economy in our lives. According to an AP Poll that appeared in the Pantagraph in late November, 93% say they will spend less or about the same as last year and about 20% say they are suffering from debt-related stress, up from 15% in the spring (Pantagraph, 11/24/09).
In order to get us thinking outside of the box, let’s pause and ponder one pastor’s short version of the history of Christianity: “Christianity started in Palestine as a fellowship; it moved to Greece and became a philosophy; it moved to Italy and became an institution; it moved to Europe and became a culture; it came to America and became an enterprise.” What do you think of this? Is this an accurate portrayal? What are some ways that Christianity has become an enterprise in America?
Do you know what the fastest growing religion is in the world? It’s not Islam or Christianity. The symbol of this rising faith is not the crescent or the cross, but a dollar sign. This expanding belief system is radical consumerism and it promises transcendence, power, pleasure, and fulfillment even as it demands complete devotion. I’m afraid that many American Christians have incorporated this devotion to consumerism with their Christian faith. The consumer culture we live in claims that the material things we want will elevate us above our current circumstances.
The headlines that scream at us are crazy. Here’s one that I saw a couple weeks ago: “Savers Slowing Economy.” While I didn’t get the best grade in my college macro-economics class, I do know that consumer spending accounts for 70% of our economy. It’s almost as if we’re being urged to shop our way out of the recession, even though many of us are struggling financially ourselves. One pastor writes: “How strange and sad it is that debt and consumerism reach their pinnacle on the morning we celebrate the birth of Jesus – the Savior who came to liberate us from these things.”
And the cry from commercials and print ads is incessant, isn’t it? Here are just three that I tore out from the recent issue of Newsweek. One electronic product has a bright red bow around it with this caption, “The Ultimate Gift.” Another screams out, “Give the Gift that Will Thrill Everyone!” The third full-page ad has Christmas lights around the border with two views of a shiny car in the middle with these words emblazoned in red at the top: “Joy to the Wallet.” I can’t quite figure out how spending $30,000 on this model will bring joy to the wallet.