This is an interesting weekend in the year. Our American friends have just celebrated Thanksgiving, officially, and ceremoniously kicking off the start of the holiday shopping season with Black Friday.
What an odd name for the day after Thanksgiving. “Black Friday”. You have to wonder where Black Friday gets its name. Is it the black eye it tends to give shoppers who fight in the aisles over great deals on consumer products like the hottest toys or electronics?
Not exactly, but not really that far off either. Black Friday gets its name because of these deals and the consumers who rush to the stores guaranteeing the stores an annual profit. Meaning they are operating in the black instead of the red. Not unlike our own Boxing Day sales that seem to have been stretched out over an entire week these last few years.
We in Canada are very aware of this huge opening of the Christmas shopping season in our neighbour to the south because we watch a lot of American television. We’ve seen all the ads on these great deals and how stores are opening at 3 or 4 in the morning so people can get there early for the great deals, which of course are only a few per store. So if you aren’t there early, you won’t be able to get that special toy or television.
In the news we hear how people camped out for hours to be first in line. We hear how long the line-ups were. We hear from businesses who say how much money they made this year, and how it was better than last year. A sure sign our economy has more hope than it did last year. People are starting to show more confidence because they are spending more money on gifts for Christmas.
I read one headline that said stores are hopeful as the enter this critical time of year for their businesses. Meaning if they don’t make a healthy profit, they won’t be around next year.
And here we are this morning. Gathered in this church, celebrating the start of Advent. Getting ready for Christmas, maybe?
The word ‘advent’ means ‘coming’. This is the time of year we hope to reflect and prepare for the coming of Christ. Our Saviour is coming! This is a joyous time in our year. And we should be excited! We should be happy Christmas is coming.
But the question is, “Why are we excited?”
We are excited to see the anticipation of our children who will try and catch a glimpse of the fat man coming down the chimney and leaving behind treasures. We are excited to go to parties, give gifts and see for ourselves what the fat fellow left for us as well.
What excites us more? What’s lies under the tree or what lies in the manger?
Luke warns us we are seeing the strains on creation. The world is in turmoil and distress, people live in fear for what is happening.
Yet there is hope. Jesus is coming. Hope is on the horizon.
We see signs all around us. People reaching out to those in need. God bringing people together for the greater good of the community.
It’s not just happening here. I’ve talked with pastors in other places around the Maritimes, and we all feel God is on the move. Caring for His people, getting us ready.
We are seeing the beginning of the new season. Jesus said, “Look at the trees. You can see by their leaves that summer is soon here.”
We are seeing the first buds happening all over. People are responding to God’s call here in Sydney Mines and all over the world. Jesus said, “…when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.”
This is a great time to celebrate the work being done in the name of Jesus Christ and also to seek God’s guidance on what else we might be doing.
As Christians we struggle with the demands on our time and money during the Christmas season. It’s a challenge for us as we get swept up in the wave of consumerism.
But what if we thought differently.
I’ve posted a video on our website by a group called Advent Conspiracy. It’s a promotional video from a few years ago that challenges us to think about what the holidays really means to us.
It tells how Americans spend 450 billion dollars on Christmas each and every year. $450 billion on sweaters she won’t like, gift cards that go unused, and so on.
But what if we stepped back and saw the gifts we can offer others in the world. For instance, it would cost 10 billion dollars to supply clean water to the world.
Where can we offer our greatest gifts? Where can we let the love of Jesus Christ show, the light of Christ shine brightest?
Jesus warns us this morning to be on guard. Watch out for the things which wear us down, trapping us in the sins of the world.
I’m not trying to thrust a guilt trip on you, gift giving and receiving is fun, it shows how we love one another.
But for many people, Christmas, and especially the month after it, is a time of great stress. There are people, maybe even some of you here today, who cannot afford such extravagances we are told we cannot live without. Or feel guilty because you can’t afford to give your child or grandchild the new, wonderful toy there are dreaming about day and night.
There are people who spend the next couple of months living paycheque to paycheque because they are spending every spare cent they make just to pay off the credit debt they accumulated before Christmas.
Christmas is not meant to be this way. Christmas is a time of joy. A time where we spend moments with loved ones. A time where we come together in celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.
Imagine for a moment you were to buy a gift for Jesus. It is his birthday after all! What do you think he would want? How would he want us to spend our money?
In the video I mentioned earlier, and if I had the equipment to show it to you this morning, I would. Maybe another time. The Advent Conspiracy video encourages us to spend less, but give more.
What if we spent less on gifts for people who don’t really need anything, and spent a few dollars on making someone’s life better? Isn’t that what Jesus would want us to do?
It’s an ongoing struggle for us as this approach is against everything we see in the news, we see in commercials, we see when we are out shopping, we see when we surf the internet, read magazines, talk with our children.
Spending less is not an option when we listen to the expectations of the world around us.
Yet, spending less and giving more makes all the sense in the world from a Christian perspective. As followers of Jesus Christ, spending less and giving more makes perfect sense, because it opens up a whole new opportunity to help others.
$450 billion on Christmas… $10 billion to provide clean water to the world. Spending less and giving more is less expensive than it sounds.
It requires a change in thinking and time spent educating people on how you see Christmas. It will take time to educate those around you about how much is appropriate to spend on gifts each year.
It starts in our own houses as we teach our families where our priorities, not just at Christmas time, but all times of the year.
I cannot sum this message up any better than in Jesus’ own words, when we read this morning, “…[pray] that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
The world is making plans for us, as consumers and commodities, but God’s plan is much greater as His children.