How do I spend less?

Here is the text from the sermon I preached December 4, 2011 at First Presbyterian Church. The texts were Isaiah 40:1-11 and Mark 1:1-8.

And here’s a link to the audio. How do I spend less?

This season of Advent we’ve invited you to join us in a conspiracy of sorts, an Advent Conspiracy. An opportunity to Enter the Story of waiting, the story of preparing, the story of hope, the story of joy that we find ina manger in Bethlehem; the story of God becoming incarnate in an infant, born in poverty; an infant that would show us a new way to live, a new way to interact, a new way to be.

I will be honest this week’s question: How do we spend less? is a hard one for me. It’s hard because one of the main ways my family shows love is through the giving of gifts. All my life, whether at the holidays or just because the way that my family says, “I love you” is through buying each other gifts.

A few years ago a book came out to help married couples communicate more effectively and help them to understand their partner. This book was called the 5 Love Language. Dr. Gary Chapman explains that these love languages are ways that people show and interpret love.

My family shows and interprets love through little gifts, it doesn’t have to be grandiose or expensive it’s just something. “Hey, I thought of you today and I bought you your favorite candy bar.” “I saw this book on the half off table and I thought you’d like it.” You know stuff like that.

So when I tell my family, we are going to spend less this year and we would like you to as well, it’s like telling them not to show us that they love us. It’s really hurtful, I can hear it over the phone. Even though my parents and sister are flying all the way across country to spend time with us this Christmas (which as you know if pretty expensive and a wonderful gift in and of itself) it is necessary for them to give us and our children something, some token of their love.

Who am I to tell my family that they can’t speak in the only language they know?

My hope is that while we think about spending less, we will hear spend differently. Whether that’s a gift from the Alternative Christmas Market or a donation in honor of your loved one to a worthy cause, or a check to them in the amount you were going to spend to them inviting them to give it away to the something they feel passionate about and tell you why.  There are a million different ways to spend, that can not only show how much you love but also can do good for someone else.

Sometimes I think that we spend because that is the only language we think is out there, we don’t know or have never heard of a different way. There are tons of ways you can give or receive a gift that doesn’t cost you any money.

Let’s look at some of the ways that a gift that didn’t cost anything has touched the lives of our community.

In the passage from Mark this morning we hear about John the Baptist, cousin of Jesus, standing in the wilderness saying, “Hey everybody, something’s got to change and I know that soon someone will come and show you. I can point to him. And he’s going to change everything.”

That’s what we are doing, we are waiting, we are preparing for something fantastic, the birth of the savior, Jesus, who came as an infant, not a mighty king, who broke bread with his enemies, not decimate them, who at every turn did something unexpected.

Even the one who was proclaiming his coming was unexpected. He was in the wilderness wearing camel hair, eating locusts and wild honey. He wasn’t in the halls of power, he never intended to go there, John the Baptist was setting the table for the banquet to come.

He said wake up, there’s something wrong here and I know who’s going to show us how to fix it.

I think right now in our world, in our society, in our economy we are at a crisis point. We are at a point where mere tinkering isn’t going to fix it, we need to completely overhaul the systems we live in, that we have become a part of, that we have fed into. I believe God is doing something new.

Now you might be saying, “You’re crazy!” You’d probably be right. Crazy enough to think that a system that is reliant on spending more and more is unsustainable, crazy enough to believe that an economy based on speculation can’t hold, crazy enough to think that there are people in this world that are willing to stand up and say I’m tired of living the same ole, same ole.

People willing to say enough!

People willing to say that for living in a “Christian” nation we don’t live very Gospel lives.

I’m not an economist, I’m not a businessperson, but I know that some of you are. I may be too young, too naïve, too Pollyanna. But I’m willing to bet some of you are too.

I heard on the news this week that Black Friday was a success for retailers. Consumers spent millions of dollars, that they out-shined projections and that Cyber Monday was the biggest day of online shopping ever. The stock market was up; people said there might be light at the end of this dark tunnel that we’re in.

From what little I understand about the economy and job creation, we need people to spend money in order for more jobs to be created. More cashiers and stockers, more manufacturers, more everything…but we also need people to have jobs in order to make money to buy more things to create more jobs. This is wholly unsustainable to me.

I know that maybe an oversimplification or a complete misunderstanding. If so, please help me understand. I’m willing to sit down with anyone who is willing to help me understand this. Because it seems to me that we need a change. We are begging for a change, we aren’t going to make it if we don’t change.

I don’t have all the answers, really all I have at this point are questions, but I know that Christ came into this world in an unexpected way and I trust that Christ will continue to come into our lives in unexpected ways. I pray that a gift will unexpectedly relieve the suffering of some of the world’s poorest, I pray that God will call those blessed with knowledge of how economic systems work to sit down with those that understand how just systems work and try and figure out how we can have a more just economic system.

The time is now, Christmas is coming, the savior of the world is coming to shock us, to challenge us, to call us to a new way of loving the lord God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and loving our neighbors as ourselves.

Remember Christmas can STILL change the world!

May it be so!

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